"The 2010 Earthquake" by Claire Antone Payton

Payton is a doctoral student in the Department of History at Duke University. She is the creator of the Haiti Memory Project, which recorded testimony on the 2010 earthquake.

The January 12, 2010, earthquake’s significance as a historical event derives from the hundreds of thousands of lives lost, and also from the tremendous impact it had on the lives of the individual men and women who survived it. In many cases, understanding how people remembered the disaster requires grappling with the role that religion plays shaping experience. The passages below suggest some of the diverse ways people experienced the disaster through the lens of spirituality.

One man who I encountered in November, 2010,  in Cite Soleil recalled the prayer that the earthquake inspired him to pray, but a different prayer than those around him: "I was in my neighborhood. When I sat down, I saw the earth shake, zzzzzzzzzz, the earth was shaking, I saw the earth was shaking. ‘I'm an earthquake!’ But when I saw that the earth was shaking too much, I made my peace with Death. I was nervous too, for me the earth was shaking too much. I saw Death in front of me. The earth shook too much. Houses fell. The ground trembled. When it stopped shaking, I stood and went toward my house. People were on their knees: ‘Mother Mary, Jesus, Jesus, save me, save me.’ I did not say that. I prayed to the Earth, because I always give my prayers to the earth. I came from the Earth, and I will return to the Earth. I put my fingers over my heart. I said: ‘Earth, you are my love. Be also my protector during these events. I beg you, Lord, that your almighty power aides me, that it purifies my heart, and guards me from your anger. Amen, Amen, Amen.’ I said this prayer three times, and I went back to my house, slowly."

In June 2010, a young civil engineering student, Francoise Erylne, shared her memories of her school collapsing and burying her and her classmates in rubble: "I say, ‘My God.’ And everyone begins to run, and me, I stay sitting, saying ‘Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!’ And then, I don’t know what is going on anymore. I only hear noises, screaming, students who are yelling ‘Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!’ And wires, walls, blocks, all that falls. It’s… it was unbelievable. At that moment, I… I don’t know where I am anymore, what’s going on. I just hear very, very loud screaming. Students screaming very, very loudly and me, I’m screaming even more loudly, ‘Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!’ There are wires, walls, all that crack, crack, crack, I feel it’s… like that, so, and after I find myself under the concrete. With my nose filled, my ears filled with grains of sand and everything, and I find there were three other students near me who are screaming very loudly ‘What are we going to do? How? How can we get out of here?’ And they’re crying. There are, there are two or three who are crying very loudly, and I said to them, ‘No, don’t cry because God is coming to deliver us this night if it’s his will. And if it’s his will for us to die, then we will all die here.’