A Story from the Haiti Earthquake

UNC graduate student Laura Wagner, an anthropologist who was doing research in Haiti and survived the earthquake, has just published a remarkable and beautiful piece about her experience in the online magazine Salon.

Haiti: A survivor’s story

I was sitting barefoot on my bed, catching up on ethnographic field notes, when the earthquake hit. As a child of the San Francisco area, I was underwhelmed at first. “An earthquake. This is unexpected,” I thought. But then the shaking grew stronger. I had never felt such a loss of control, not only of my body but also of my surroundings, as though the world that contained me were being crumpled.

I braced myself in a doorway between the hallway and the kitchen, trying to hold on to the frame, and then a cloud of darkness and cement dust swallowed everything as the house collapsed. I was surprised to die in this way, but not afraid. And then I was surprised not to be dead after all. I was trapped, neither lying down nor sitting, with my left arm crushed between the planks of the shattered doorway and my legs pinned under the collapsed roof. Somewhere, outside, I heard people screaming, praying and singing. It was reassuring. It meant the world hadn’t ended.

I want you to know that, before the earthquake, things in Haiti were normal. Outside Haiti, people only hear the worst — tales that are cherry-picked, tales that are exaggerated, tales that are lies.


One thought on “A Story from the Haiti Earthquake”

  1. Professor Dubois,
    This is a really incredible piece, both frank and extraordinarily eloquent. Thanks for posting it.

    Of particular interest to members of our class is her discussion of what the rest of the world sees when we look at Haiti, and how that juxtaposes with the reality on the ground. I’m going to post a short excerpt on this subject from the end of the piece, in case you don’t have a chance to read it all (although you definitely should if you have the time!).

    “I am telling you two things that seem contradictory: that people in Haiti are suffering horribly, and that Haitians are not sufferers in some preordained way. What I mean is that suffering is not some intrinsic aspect of Haitian existence, it is not something to get used to. The dead were once human beings with complex lives, and those in agony were not always victims.

    In Haiti I was treated with incredible warmth and generosity by people who have been criminalized, condemned, dehumanized and abstractly pitied. They helped me in small, significant ways for the six months I was there, and in extraordinary ways in the hours after the quake. Now I cannot help them. I cannot do anything useful for them from here, except to employ the only strategy that was available to us all when we were buried in collapsed houses, listening to the frantic stirrings of life aboveground: to shout and shout until someone responds.”

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