By Mischa BerlinskiJun 2010The earthquake in Haiti interrupted Venance Lafrance's life in progress, as it interrupted the lives of everyone in Port-au-Prince. In the weeks after, no one knew what to expect next. Lafrance offered a clue.
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Walking around Port-au-Prince after the quake and talking to people, I learned all sorts of ways to describe in Creole just how a building fell down. A house that had held was said to havekembé, or hung tight, thank God. This was the case with my own house, in which not even the wineglasses had broken. A house with a crack or two or a hundred was fissuré, generally considered to be alarming depending only on the depth of the crack or its location. Sometimes a crack could be so wide as to admit sunlight and rain. Still more severe was a house that was fracturé, or fractured. This was the case with our immediate neighbor's house, whose walls split open to reveal the steel skeleton buried in the reinforced concrete. Some houses split in two – half the house coming down completely, the other half perfectly intact, leaving little windows into the occupants' lost worlds: a table still set for meals, books on bookshelves, a toilet. Even more dramatic than the fractured house was the house that was penché, or tilted. We saw such oddities all over town – houses that had suffered little or no apparent damage but were now tilting at extreme angles to the horizontal. The gravest category of destroyed home was said to have been krazé, or wiped out. If you wanted to add emphasis, you'd say that the house had been krazé net – the word net in this case meaning 100 percent, down to the ground, nothing left whatsoever but a pile of cement and twisted rebar.