Haitian writer Dany Laferrière, who was in Haiti for the “Etonnants Voyageurs” series of conferences and events, kept a dairy with his observations during the earthquake and its aftermath. The Nouvel Observateur published part of his diary. Here are some excerpts:
A minute: All this lasted barely a minute, but we had from eight to ten seconds to make a decision. Leave the place where we were or stay. Very few are those who had made a good start. Even the quickest lost three or four precious seconds before understanding what was happening. Haiti is used to coups and cyclones, but not earthquakes. The cyclone is well announced [in advance]. A coup is preceded by a cloud of rumors. I was in the hotel restaurant with friends (editor Rodney Saint-Eloi and critic Thomas Spear). Thomas Spear lost three seconds because he wanted to finish his beer. We don’t all react in the same way. Anyway, no one can predict where death awaits. All three of us met again, with our stomachs flat against the ground in the middle of the yard. Under the trees.
Silence: [. . .] I expected to hear cries, howling. Nothing. A deafening silence. In Haiti they say that as long as there are no screams, there is no one dead. Someone yelled that it was not wise to remain under the trees. So then we took shelter at the hotel’s tennis court. In fact, it was false, because not even a flower moved despite the 43 seismic tremors. I still hear that silence.
Projectiles: [. . .] Even at 7.3 on the Richter scale, it is not so bad. One can still run. It was the concrete that killed. People have created an orgy of concrete over the last 50 years. Small fortresses. Houses of wood and tin, more flexible houses, survived [the quake]. In the often small hotel rooms, the enemy was the TV. One always is always situated in front of it. It flies directly at us. Many people were struck in the head [by TVs].
Night: The majority of the people in Port-au-Prince slept outdoors that night, under the stars. [. . .] As we were lying on the ground, we could feel every tremor of the earth in our deepest being. We were one body with the Earth. I was pissing in the woods when my legs started to shake. I had the impression that it was the Earth shaking.
Prayer: [. . .] Two young girls began singing a religious song so sweet that some adults were able to fall asleep. Two hours later, we heard a clamor. Hundreds of people were praying and singing in the streets [. . .]
For full article (in French), see http://bibliobs.nouvelobs.com/20100121/17121/tout-bouge-autour-de-moi