To get you through the day: Stories from Guantanamo

I originally shared the following Washington Post article (via Sepia Mutiny) with selective friends/family through email last week, and just realized that others might be interested in reading this as well. As I mentioned in my email, I first read this because I’m Pukhtun myself. But this is a moving and beautifully written account, and a thought-provoking one, so check it when you get a chance – the Guantanamo diary of a Pukhtun law student, by Mahvish Khan.

Ali Shah Mousovi is standing at attention at the far end of the room, his leg chained to the floor. His expression is wary, but when he sees me in my traditional embroidered shawl from Peshawar, he breaks into a smile. Later, he’ll tell me that I resemble his younger sister, and that for a split second he mistook me for her.
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I don’t know exactly what I had expected coming to Guantanamo Bay, but it wasn’t this weary, sorrowful man. The government says he is a terrorist and a monster, but when I look at him, I see simply what he says he is — a physician who wanted to build a clinic in his native land.
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As an American, I felt the pain of Sept. 11, and I understood the need to invade Afghanistan and destroy the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But I also felt the suffering of the Afghans as their country was bombed. And when hundreds of men were rounded up and thrust into a black hole of detention, many with seemingly no proof that they had any terrorist connections, I felt that my own country had taken a wrong turn.

While writing this post, I came across another heartbreaking article, one I’ll have to share with my father the Gardener Extraordinaire: Wilting Dreams At Gitmo – A Detainee Is Denied A Garden, and Hope is the story of an innocent Saudi Arabian prisoner at Guantanamo Bay who digs a garden using spoons.

…He said, “We planted a garden. We have some small plants — watermelon, peppers, garlic, cantaloupe. No fruit yet. There’s a lemon tree about two inches tall, though it’s not doing well.”

“The guards gave you tools?”

He shook his head.

“Then — how do you dig?” I was struggling to grasp this.

“Spoons,” he said. “And a mop handle.”

The soil in Camp Iguana is dry and brittle as flint. And I’ve seen the spoons they give our clients.

“But the spoons are plastic — aren’t they?”

Saddiq nodded. “At night we poured water on the ground. In the morning, we pounded it with the mop handle and scratched it with the spoons. You can loosen about this much.” He held his thumb and forefinger about a half-inch apart. “The next day, we did it again. And so on until we had a bed for planting.” He shrugged. “We have lots of time, here.”
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For all that, as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” Maybe the History of Guantanamo will have a few uplifting footnotes. America denied them seeds and trowels and they created life anyway. We tried to withhold beauty, but from the grim earth of Guantanamo they scratched a few square meters of garden — with spoons. Guantanamo is ugly, but man’s instinct for beauty lives deep down things.

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