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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)


Air Date: Week of

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Routines are an important part of our environment, as the people of New York City are finding as they try to recover from the events of September 11th. Contributor Clay Scott spent several years reporting from cities such as Sarajevo, Baghdad, and Beirut, and says for people in war situations, maintaining a routine environment becomes a tool for survival.


CURWOOD: One important element of any environment, though perhaps not an obvious or a tangible one, is routine. The things we do everyday or every week, at the same time or in the same place, or with the same people, comfort us with their regularity. Routine can become a tool for survival during times of stress or trauma. The kinds of times New Yorkers are going through. Clay Scott spent several years reporting from places under siege. Places like Grozny, Baghdad, Beirut and Sarajevo. He has these thoughts.

SCOTT: I remember my first visit to Sarajevo, before the Bosnian war. I was struck by the city's joyful arrogance, by the swagger in people's walk, by the feeling that life here was, and always would be, good. In the surrounding mountains, only an hour's stroll from the city's center, I found streams filled with brown trout and tracks of boar and deer.

Ten years later, I returned to Bosnia. The war was in full swing. Sarajevo was in ruins. And the swagger was gone. Gone, as well, were the park benches where lovers once sat. Every scrap of firewood had long since been scavenged. The trout-filled streams were now lined with land mines. And from the flanks of the mountains, howitzer and mortar shells rained down on those unfortunate Sarajevans who had been unable to flee.

What struck me this time was people's determination not only to survive but to retain their sanity and dignity in a nightmarish, insane world. They did this by holding stubbornly to routine in lives that had been turned upside down. My landlady in Sarajevo, Mrs. Abadjic, had already lost her husband and her son in a conflict she couldn't comprehend. We would meet several times a week for an afternoon tea chat in her kitchen, blankets on our laps to keep warm. The U.N. issued plastic sheeting over the windows, letting in just enough light to see. Smoking the precious cigarettes I had brought her. Listening to the dull thud of mortar fire. "Puca dannas" she would say, with a smile. Literally, "It's shooting today," as if she were talking about the weather. Later, when I'd get up to leave, she would smile again. "Enjoy the rest of your day."

A couple of years later, in Lebanon, I found the same resiliency, the same stubborn clinging to normal routine in a world that had lost its sanity. A stretch of highway south of Beirut was being shelled by Israeli gunboats. Nevertheless, a line of Lebanese motorists insisted on running the deadly gauntlet. A police officer directed traffic as the cars made a mad dash for safety half a mile away. One by one, the cars drove off at a signal from the policeman. Rubber burning, tires squealing, sometimes swerving as a shell struck nearby.

Like my landlady, Mrs. Abadjic, these were people who didn't understand what was happening to them or why. They knew only that they would not give up their routine. I spoke to those waiting in line. What was their errand? What was so urgent that it couldn't wait? In a small Italian car, six Greek Catholic nuns were huddled. "We have to get back to our convent," they told me. Behind them, an elderly couple sat calmly in an old American station wagon packed with green bananas. "We have to go," they said simply. "Today is market day." Then, with a wave, they too drove off, accelerating into the curve ahead.

In New York City this week, people are struggling with their trauma. Struggling to find sanity in a world that has been badly shaken. More than anything, they will find comfort in small things, in the familiarity of routine. Taking in a Broadway play or taking their dog for a walk. Or, cheering their beloved Yankees in the final days of the season.

BASEBALL GAME ANNOUNCER: Number two, Derek Jeter, shortstop.


CURWOOD: Correspondent Clay Scott covered the wars in Lebanon and in Bosnia for Monitor Radio.




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