AirBnB host Afri Atiba Credit: Jamie Ramsay

Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week’s Chicagoan is Afri Atiba, 51, AirBnb host.

I got the idea from a friend who had started using AirBnb in New York. I thought it was strange to go and stay at somebody’s house that you didn’t know, but my friend is like that—a little peculiar. About a year after that, my husband and I separated. It was lonely being in this big house by myself. I have five siblings, so I had never been alone.

I was trying to figure out how to make ends meet. My back was against the wall, and my girlfriend said, “You should do AirBnb.” First I said, “No, that’s ridiculous,” but then I got really pressed, and I said, “I’ll try it.”

I stay in Chatham, and it’s quiet. I’ve had guests for the last six years and never had any incidents. It’s right off of King Drive, and it’s just half a block to the bus stop. And that bus will take you all the way to McCormick Place. It’s just a quiet neighborhood, no one selling drugs on the corner, no kids hanging out. It’s a working-class African-American neighborhood where everybody goes to work every day, and everybody comes home every day.

Before Uber and Lyft, I had a big problem, because cabs never came into my neighborhood. And if my guests took a cab to come here, by the time they got here, the cabdriver would have scared them half to death. They would come in the house and say, “The cabdriver told me I shouldn’t be staying on this side of town.” People are afraid of the south side. It’s ridiculous. I educate my guests. I tell them: “Anything can happen in any neighborhood in Chicago.”

Early on, I think some gentlemen thought that AirBnb was something different. I had to get one gentleman in particular really straight about that. He said he was coming for business, but when he got here, he didn’t have any business outside of the house, and he kept asking me when I was going to have dinner with him. And he walked around the house with pajamas on. I called my boyfriend, and he came over and said, “You have to put your clothes on. She’s renting you a room. That’s the end of the story.” After that, I rectified the situation very easily: I put on my profile that I do not entertain male guests. I’m not going out to dinner, I’m not fixing breakfast for you, none of that.

I’ve had guests from all over the world, literally. And I love it. I love meeting new people who have become friends. I had one young lady stay with me who was telling me that she loves to travel, and she wanted me to go with her to Saint Croix. I said, “I’ve always wanted to go to an island,” so we went. She introduced me to people in Saint Croix, and I go back every year and stay a month or so. Another lady who stayed with me, we’ve gone on a cruise together. I had a couple from Germany stay with me, and they were like, “You’ve got to come to Berlin.” I told them, “I haven’t been to Europe a lot because I don’t want to go where I’m not wanted,” and they said, “No, it’s a melting pot!” So I promised them I would come to Berlin. The last place on earth I would want to go. But they were such good people.   v