By Léo Azambuja

Leo 1I know we’ve got it, but sometimes – very few times, indeed – I catch myself asking where is the aloha? One of those times was a day before Hurricane Iselle made landfall on the Big Island.

I’m not even talking about Kaua‘i residents. We exude aloha here, and we’ve all experienced it to a maximum degree after Hurricane ‘Iniki devastated the island in 1992. We were really unprepared for a storm of that magnitude, and yet we shared all we had with anyone without asking for anything in return.

To make sure, we got lots of help from off-island, and kudos to FEMA, National Guard and many others. But what really got stuck on my memories was the aloha among residents.

Last month, as Iselle marched toward the islands with stronger Hurricane Julio two days behind, local residents crowded supermarkets and gas stations, trying to make sure they had enough supplies in case we got hit hard. From experience, I believe everyone was getting extra to make sure they had something to share too.

But then somewhere in some office away from supermarket lines, aloha was lost. Somehow, for no reason other than to make a pretty penny out of people’s fears, fears that had a strong probability of becoming reality, some stores decided to jack up the price of water.

Surprisingly or not, some of those stores belonged to large corporations that apparently didn’t need the extra revenue at all. I’ve heard of cases of water bottles selling for as much as $30, the same cases that usually go for around $10 or less.

But these days, social media is a lot faster than karma. And that’s how the word got out, with lots of finger pointing going on in the virtual world. Some places, perhaps afraid of repercussion, backed out and reduced their prices. I got my own case of water for $11, which I thought was reasonable. But I heard the store was selling the same case of water for more than $30 earlier in the day.

I did not see the price gouging in person, but I did see pictures online of absurd prices.

To make matters worse, a couple days after Iselle disappeared forever into the Pacific, I returned an electronic item at one of the big box stores and got my proper refund, all 100 percent of it.

As I was getting my money back, I asked the lady at the customer service if anyone tried to return cases of water bottles. She said there were a lot of people bringing water back, but the store wasn’t accepting any of it, none. Her facial expression denounced an indignation for those trying to get their money back. Perhaps she was just brainwashed by a CEO who makes a ton of money and can afford whatever they charged for water.

That’s just ugly.

Fortunately, regardless of what hits us, we still have plenty aloha to share among ourselves, and even the lady at the customer service will get her share of it.