October 25 – 27
As was agreed when we called Odette in Aitutaki, Priya and I were supposed to stay for a week in a cheap hostel before heading back to our previous hosts’ place. So we headed for the “International Backpackers” hostel, the cheapest on the island, happy to be back in Raro and out of the hellhole called Sonja’s.
The manager of the hostel, Tisa, a Rarotongan full of personality, showed us to our room, which had been upgraded for no extra charge from a dorm room to a private room because and I quote “She couldn’t be bothered making the beds”. Well, better for us.
Skip ahead two days to when Priya and I go meet Odette at her workplace, where she welcomes us by staring at her computer looking for other workaway hosts or helpx hosts who could use our help. Understandably confused, we asked her why she was being so distant and why it sounded like she had changed all we had agreed on beforehand. She told us that she wanted us back, but that Sonja had called her husband to tell him that back in Aitutaki we refused to eat her food, said straight to her face we didn’t like her house and did no work. All lies. This took us by surprise, as we had hoped for a reasonable conclusion to our Sonja story, and while she was an old hag she didn’t seem like the type of person who would lie so profusely. According to Odette, Joe didn’t want us back for this reason, and she said that if we came back anyways he would spend all his energy trying to prove to us that we weren’t made for farm and garden work (although only two days out of the two weeks before Aitutaki were spent in the garden or farm). Seeing Priya was silent, hiding the fact that she was extremely upset at how badly everything had turned out, I pressed her, telling her we couldn’t afford to spend a whole month on a paradise island without work. Again, with her eyes glued to the computer, she told us in a mechanical, cold voice that we should find work then. I tried telling her that we had a tourist visa and therefore couldn’t undergo paid work, but her answer was that we had to find another workaway then, and the only other one on the island was one where all the reviews mentioned how horrible the place was.
We were lost, confounded by what had happened in a single week. How already, after only three weeks, our entire trip was in jeopardy. She offered to call Guillaume, the owner of Le Rendez-Vous where she had sent us to do barwork before for her work’s event, and he answered saying we could work at his place washing dishes 3h a day eachat different times of the day, for 9 dollars an hour (6 euros, which was more than the minimum wage in the Cooks). Upset, desperate and confused we agreed to help out at the RDV for a day or two to see. As Odette bid us goodbye, we walked out of her workplace unable to grasp what had happened. The truth of the matter was we had been played.
Fast forward a week, Priya and I meet Timo and Lynn, the best Germans ever, at the Backpacker hostel. This couple in their late 20’s tell us tales of their experience with Joe and Odette and how badly they had treated past workawayers they had met as well (A Canadian man came back from the hospital after getting sick while staying with them, to find all his things had been thrown out onto the road by Joe for example, just because they had no use for workers who got sick). Later on while accompanying a friend to a tattoo parlor we spoke at great lengths with King, the shop owner, who told us this year alone he’s met around 20 people complaining about being mistreated by Joe and Odette. The more we talked to islanders about our experience, the more we understood we weren’t the first, and certainly not the last. Soon we learned from Timo and Lynn that Odette had been complaining about us before we even set foot on Rarotonga, angered by the fact that we came from the city and we would have to be taught some things (even though they knew all of this, our age, our background, our experiences and had countless opportunities to back out before we had booked our tickets, or even give us a lame excuse). But no, instead they decided to have us, see for themselves that we weren’t free experienced labor, and then kick us out by sending us to Aitutaki.
Feeling betrayed by the first people we had met on this journey, which had for objective (among others) to see that the world isn’t full of ill-intentioned people, a week later I went back to see Odette. Although I was boiling with rage inside I had decided to keep it all under control as we didn’t need any more problems, I just had to get my winter coat back from her car and the money back for the bike helmets they proposed to return for us while we went to Aitutaki. So I calmed my nerves and walked to Odette’s workplace, as I was walking she was driving the other way to go into town by car. She saw me and told me to hop in. I agreed and went on a ride with her, where I grabbed my coat back, asked about the helmets, which she said they had returned and that the company had charged our card only for the specific amount of days we had used the helmets for not more.
Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to keep this conversation calm, she pressed me about what we were going to do from now on. So I told her we decided to use our emergency fund, because screw getting in trouble with the law for working on a tourist visa, we didn’t need even more trouble so early on, especially nothing involving the law. And after hearing that, quite a reasonable thing to say it was if I may say so even, that land-whale of a woman answered in her despicable East-German accent: “Well that’s up to you Skander, you’re a man, you make your own choices, if you wanna work to get yourself out of a bad situation then you do that, if you don’t want to work and just relax then go ahead, it’s a bit stupid though.”
Re-reading that, I don’t know what exactly made me so mad, maybe it was that she was implying we weren’t willing to work, maybe that she was saying we put ourselves in this mess, or maybe I just needed to vent. But anyhow that was it, and good timing because we had just arrived at our destination, the RDV. The lid came off and with it a million different insults, my face went from red to crisp volcanic lava red, and I just couldn’t keep it under control. I told her everything I wanted to tell her, that she was a bad person, that she knew they’d have to teach us part of the job, that they brought us to this place knowing they would kick us out as soon as possible, that they were complaining before we had even met them, that the only option she gave us in return was illegal. I shouted at her in English, in French, in Sign Language and made those two minutes the worst of her life. I made sure to leave nothing out and give her my all. I felt like a bull shown a red-flag. After a barrage of verbal attacks and even an instant of me trying to use logic to make her see she had done a terrible thing, she stormed off in her car and gave me a middle finger while driving away. Which of course in due politeness I gave back to her.
Half-an hour later, as I eat my lunch in the hostel kitchen, still calming my raging nerves, my phone rings. I don’t pick it up as it’s an unknown number. It rings again, so this time I answer the call, when I hear Joe’s voice. He doesn’t give me a second to reply, and in turn (fair I guess) starts shouting at me over the phone calling me all sorts of names (fine with me, only fair to return the favor) but then something else happened. “Don’t you fucking report us to the authorities or the website, I’ll get your visa cancelled, I know what hostel you’re at, I will come and fucking take care of you!” Verbal insults are fine, but threatening to illegally cancel our visas and to come beat me up, that’s over the line. Unfortunately, as we had no connections and they had plenty (Remember the husband works in immigration services at the airport, and with only 5 officers there, the system is easy to exploit) we were forced to comply and finish the call by telling them we’d stay out of their way if they stayed out of ours.
Needless to say we were scared, we knew he was a violent person from our time at their house, we knew he liked to get drunk any day of the week, but, we knew he was scared too. If we reported them that could mean him getting in trouble or losing face which on a small island is terribly hard to get over. So we did nothing, tried to forget about them, while being careful nonetheless. Later on we met the ministers of agriculture and the minister of foreign affairs while hitchhiking, who each told us we had to give them their names because this wasn’t the first time they’d heard of something like this, and that they were investigating this sort of events. A hotel manager tried to convince us to speak to the only island newspaper, as she personally knew the editor, in order to do what was right and stop more people from getting screwed by them. She told us our rights were being shunned, that it was immoral for them to do this to people and we had to protect newcomers. We took time to decide but our final answer was no, they knew too much about us, they could be resourceful and we didn’t need more drama or enemies for life trying to get back at us. However, we directed the manager to Timo and Lynn who happily answered the call. Oh and Joe and Odette had returned the helmets and gotten a cash payback of over 60 euros, meaning they stole money from us as well and lied to my face that we had been refunded through card.
So there you go that sums up the story of Joe and Odette, literally the only mean people we met on the island of Rarotonga.
A trip is a mix of good and bad, and while this was definitely a bad experience, we learned a lot about people and bad situations. And hey at least this was one of the very few negative experiences of our entire trip.
Oh and if you’re reading this Joe & Odette: Fuck you ^^