When calamity strikes


Zubin D’Souza

There are always going to be times of unprecedented calamities.

There are bound to be natural disasters like tsunamis and typhoons or human made catastrophes like forest fires and wars.

There will always be a large percentage of the population striving to get out of the mess that has been caused by others. They would want to survive despite the odds.

Then there would also be those that are troubled by the situation. The worriers and the stressed; willing to pay a price no matter how high so that they can look at their troubles safely in the rear view mirror.

That’s the precise opening that the tragedy opportunists are looking for. They hover around looking for a suitable victim, choose the appropriate mark and swoop in for the kill.

Unfortunately, the kill here is not an instant physical murder but the slow and long drawn out death due to price gouging and running a black market.

It is here that the racketeers profit the most from a misfortune that surrounds us all.

And no matter how much governments try to intervene and stem the rot, it is never going to happen. Because when there is a need, there will always be a solution or a provider.

But not everything is as dark and bleak as I have just painted it. There are stories that can warm the cockles of the hardest of hearts.

There has always been at least the one person who helped displaced migrant labourers reach home; or someone else who set up a makeshift kitchen to feed the hungry.

There have been others who have shared their beds and their food; still others who ensured that they stood in the path of menacing tanks that aimed to crush peaceful protests.

It is in honour of these unsung heroes that I feel compelled to continue.

A Syrian refugee couple in Brazil even made it to the UNHCR list for their work. Although engineers by profession, when they came into Brazil around seven years ago they set up a restaurant selling their traditional food. With the pandemic and subsequent slowdown, they decided to give back to the country that had so lovingly invited them. They produced three hundred meals a day to feed the senior citizens and the most at-risk individuals swinging the old and infirm back into the spotlight and forcing more people to care.

When the COVID-19 crisis hit Italy, it affected a lot of people. The tens of thousands that died were probably better off than the hundreds of thousands that survived. Some had contracted the illness that had dropped their immunity and reduced their chances for gainful employment while others were in a similar situation because the government shuttered all businesses.

People were stuck in their homes with money and provisions running out.

Traditionally this would have been the right type for our sleazy racketeer to step in.

Luckily humanity prevailed. With the slowdown, several restaurants were closed and they had to stop ordering in provisions. That meant that the finest artisanal cheeses, sausages and cold cuts did not have buyers.

Rather than hold on to the precious cargo and wait for better days to prevail, the owners of these artisanal manufacturing units decided to donate their surplus to food banks and charities.

Cheese and meats that would normally cost a pretty penny were finding their way onto the plates of the hard-up and disadvantaged.

Pecorino and salami were jostling shoulders with hand rolled linguini in food parcels meant to feed the most affected.

It was the one time that the middle class may have actually been rueful of their upwardly mobile journey.

But then they could always derive hope from the South Africans.

When the country headed for a lockdown, most did not mind the regular stores being padlocked. It was the ban on the sale of alcohol that got them most riled up.

With most alcohol companies limiting production or turning into hand sanitizer manufacturers, the situation seemed to be getting dire too soon.

With the stocks at home turning bone dry, there were really not many options for those that needed their fix. Robberies and break-ins became all too common right until some good Samaritans came to the rescue.

Pineapples which are cheap and plentiful were collected to convert into a local beer called pynnapelbier which is also referred to as mfula mfula in the local Zulu dialect.

The resultant cider was tasty enough to pass through the lips with enough alcohol in it to put a halt to the violence!

Way back when the Spanish flu started ravaging the world in 1918, the planet was going through an altogether unique crisis. Lemons were touted as the wonder panacea to combat the illness but were woefully in short supply. People had started hoarding the delicate fruit in the hope that sucking upon them would protect them from the deadly virus. The illegal markets were also having a field day.

But then a campaign was run that urged the healthy to give up the fruit in favour of those in need. Humanity prevailed and a pandemic that saw over fifty million deaths was halted.

And so shall it be each time a dark shadow comes across us all. Heroes will emerge; not in capes and spandex uniforms but the one residing within each one of us!