By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
Empty runway, all the foreign companies connecting Mauritius to the world have suspended ties, no plane in sight. They all have flown back home. Empty halls at the airport, travellers have lighted out. No animated atmosphere with frequent announcements in loudspeakers. The usual bustle has died down. It all looks like a ghost airport. Hotels are running empty, they all pe bat lamok, the taxi driver says. Hotels and taxis are likely to bat lamok for a few months more, brace up to face hard times. Tour organizers, travel agencies, food and drink suppliers, souvenir shops, restaurants, eateries, sea trip tours and so on, all in the same reeling boat. The harsh reality of a declining monthly turnover.
“Survival instinct overrules all other considerations to keep one’s backyard safe. Halt international traffic, stop import export, keep citizens from infected zones at bay. The case of China as a ghost country, suddenly becoming transparent, drained of its energy, devoid of life, emptied from its resources can well be the fate of any other country with far more devastating consequences. We cannot all build hospitals in ten days! Why, France, for instance, will waste more than 10 days in roundtables and all shapes of tables and endless blah blah blah before laying the first brick…”
February passed by without South Korean honeymooners and Chinese New Year visitors happily hopping here and there, taking pictures of themselves amid the hustle and bustle of Port-Louis market with vendors looking on, grinning at the prospect of fleecing off tourists as much as they can. No photos on the sandy white beach and the turquoise blue water of the lagoon gently flapping on the shore under a clear blue sky with navy blue islands standing far off in the background. Too bad.
The positive fallout is that potential travellers worldwide are likely to come out in great numbers and indulge in a frenzy of flying here and there to make up for lost opportunities once the coronavirus nightmare is over.
The ghost airport is quite a sight. A reminder of Chinese ghost towns in the 2000s when China could just not put a brake on the construction spree that the government initiated and carried on at a frenetic pace to keep millions of hands busy for years. Strangely, today’s Chinese towns are a replica of the frenzy that gripped the country some time back. Empty streets, empty shops and everyone closed up in their apartments, and rather coping well with the unexpected situation in all wisdom. Taking things positively, doing indoor sports to keep fit, waving hello to fellow citizens across the blocks from their windows, texting them and promising to meet when things go back to normalcy. Not a bad idea, hey? Ruled by an imported western materialist political ideology but imbibed with the wisdom of an ancient civilization.
The people, I mean. Not the government. From the ambitious project of becoming world sole superpower by 2050, it suddenly finds itself portrayed as ‘the sick man of Asia’ by the ‘New York Times’. What an insolence! The government, we mean Emperor Xi, gets angry and bars NYT from reporting on its soil. Puerile response of taking offence at any criticism is commonplace these days, it indicates a mimicry of spoilt children’s behaviour. In ancient Greece, there was a day when free citizens and slaves could wear disguise and mask their faces to march in the streets and hurl abuses at anyone, their employers, the rich and mighty, and even the Emperor. Letting off steam, se défouler in French. Giving a yearly opportunity to commoners to unload their hearts and minds, express what they think and feel. A sign of maturity and wisdom.
Today, everyone, including rulers of big and small countries, gets angry and promises retaliation at the slightest provocation and comment. The most immature ones who are incapable of discussing and arguing threaten to hang or slit the throats of anyone who dares to question the ideology which they are self-proclaimed defenders of. China had better ignore NYT’s dig than put up the poor show of the almighty nation being insulted or whatever.
Asia is China, the Great Helmsman Mao Zedong once boastfully warned India’s Prime Minister in the 1960s. Similar to the stance taken by inflated ego of competing powers which had brought havoc, misery and destruction in Europe and other parts of the world for centuries. The vanity of military and economic might. The ambition to dominate and bully others. Does the capacity for destruction caused by a tiny invisible virus make world leaders more reasonable and humble? Not sure.
From Mao’s times till the present day, China’s attitude towards India has not changed. It has even got worse as China follows the US geostrategy of encirclement of rival countries. And it is even supported by China’s friends, North Korea, Pakistan, Iran, all supposedly democratic and free countries, and anyone who sides with any of these in a long-term plan of ganging up and finishing off an archenemy.
There is remarkable solidarity these days. As an act of friendship and trust, unlike other countries, Pakistan chose not to bring back its citizens from China. The real reason was that it does not have the medical facilities to tackle the deadly virus. Never mind, to reciprocate the great act of solidarity, Iron Brother China sent an army of 100 000 ducks to the Country of the Pure to help it fight against locusts which are devastating its agriculture. The ducks are expected to eat the locusts. Now locusts have been playing a tricky game in Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia, Palestine, etc. One of the seven plagues which befell Egypt in the Old Testament. Not a repeat of biblical times; it’s just a natural phenomenon which influenced a narrative overblown into an epic. Not the other way round.
China’s grand gesture of cooperation is quite impressive. Wow!
We are living in funny times though the sky is getting cloudy on the planet. We need a re-writing of The Divine Comedy.
What beats it all is China’s pragmatic decision to advise its citizens to go for vegetables rather. For a country where any animal on four feet or crawling on multiple legs is deemed fit to end up on the diner table, it’s quite a challenge! Going veg like India, what a wise idea.
Survival instinct overrules all other considerations to keep one’s backyard safe. Halt international traffic, stop import export, keep citizens from infected zones at bay. The case of China as a ghost country, suddenly becoming transparent, drained of its energy, devoid of life, emptied from its resources can well be the fate of any other country with far more devastating consequences. We cannot all build hospitals in ten days! Why, France, for instance, will waste more than 10 days in roundtables and all shapes of tables and endless blah blah blah before laying the first brick.
Survival instinct overweighs all other interests. No risks taken to jeopardize public health, particularly in an ageing society. Health first, the rest is secondary, is the mantra of any man and woman walking on the blessed land of Mauritius so much are they naturally imbibed with common folks’ wisdom. Never mind that many of them have less than a basic knowledge of the human anatomy Nature has gracefully gifted them with. Diabetes has a free passage in every family while the arteries of many of our wise compatriots are blocked by traffic jams caused by their daily intake of fast and fat street food and same old oily recipes at home. Cholesterol is a daily companion, and to top it all, high blood pressure is another challenge our brave people have to put up with. And as they get easily worked up and angry for any trivial matter, it is indeed quite a challenge! Still, health matters. No need to invite vicious virus over here!
* Published in print edition on 6 March 2020