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from the January 2013 issue

January 12, 2010

An interview scheduled with the French writer and literary festival director Michel Le Bris and Dany Laferrière, a Haitian and Canadian novelist and journalist.

The noise, first of all. As if some unknown monster were crashing through everything beneath us to get to the surface.

And then, the swaying, slight, barely noticeable. Two seconds of swaying, as gentle as a cradle rocking. Acceleration—and within a few more seconds the room can’t hold still, dashes to the right, the left, right, left. The house gone mad, and the pictures, the books falling, flung violently at the walls by invisible hands.

Outside. Two little girls I love have taken to their heels along with me. Without a word. We already know there are no words for saying some things. What we don’t know yet is that thousands of houses have not survived, that the dead can be counted in the hundreds of thousands.

My sister Jocelyne coming back in her car: the vehicle surfed over waves, at least that’s how it felt to her. The house next door, still standing, as is ours. There as well, there are people I love. They are unscathed.

Calling those elsewhere. Sabine. Where she is, she didn’t feel the jolting with the same severity. She’s fine. She thought one of the pupils was kicking her until she realized what was happening and took measures to protect those inside the building       Pierre. And his voice, breaking, having seen too much, saying: “Ti Lyon,* it’s a catastrophe. The National Palace, this bank, that school. . . . Death and devastation. . . .” He was at the wheel of his car, with Louis, his twin. Later, but only when weeks had passed, we’ll laugh about the incredible bond that links them. On January 12, 2010, Louis thought a truck had crashed into them. Then together they’d realized it was an earthquake. One of them, but which one doesn’t matter, said: “Shit, we were born the same day, we’re going to die the same day.”

Some phones aren’t working anymore. So, the long march. The neighborhoods of Pétion Ville, Canapé Vert. Jimmy ferries me around on his motorcycle as much as he can, but everything’s in pieces.  There are streets—what’s left of streets, piles of concrete, iron wreckage, pylons, vehicles, like a savage installation by an insane artist—that not even a motorcycle can manage. So, walk. Michel, Dany, and others who are at the hotel. Friends: Ti Jean, Georgia, the rest. . . . Go and see: to soothe the anguish, all the while steeling ourselves for the worst.

Then, a month of sleeping outdoors, twenty of us, in the courtyard. Always alert for aftershocks. And the effort to live together. Makeshift beds. Food to be improvised, shared.

And then, as the days, the months go by, back to the old regime. Society returns to its habits of exclusion.

The State: without life, without purpose. The arrival en masse of the NGOs. The “aid workers” move in.

And the journalists ask: a book about the quake? No. What I’ve read, what I’ve written myself, all that is so inadequate to what has been deeply felt. If literature can’t measure up to such experience, what use is it?

No novel about the quake. It’s to be hoped instead that sociologists will analyze the disastrous handling of the aftermath.

The earth is not responsible. Or it’s crazy. Or within its rights. We can’t pass judgment on it. But those who managed the aftermath are accountable for their actions. Or ought to be.

I supplied some words for photos taken by Amélie Baron in the weeks that followed January 12, 2010. Together we called this collection Haiti, the Difficult Duty to Exist. Among the photos, there is one of a little girl sitting in the middle of a public square with a white doll she seems to be rocking in her arms. A great many people have battened on the earthquake of January 2010. But I don’t know what happened to the child in the picture. Does anyone know?

*Lil’ Lyon

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