Guantanamo Voices

Styrofoam Flowers
January 16, 2009, 7:10 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

When he wound up in Portland after hitchiking across the United States interviewing homeless veterans, Chris Arendt spent most of the fall in downtown Portland’s Independent Publishing Resource Center creating a little zine called “Paper Birds, Styrofoam Flowers.” The title refered to one of his most vivid memories of Guantanamo: At meal times, the detainees were issued small styrofoam and, though it was illegal, would scratch flowers and beautiful designs into the sides of the cups with their fingernails.  Though the inmates were yelled at for making the flowers, they just kept creating them and part of Chris’s job was to deliver entire trashbags full of the tiny cups to military intelligence officers, who would (he assumed) analyze the flowers to see if they contained secret maps or plans. 

After the event in Reading on Tuesday night, a local Muslim man offered to take everyone involved out to dinner at a little Indian chicken barbeque place. Waiting for the food, former detainee Jarallah Al-Marri picked up the little styrofoam cup on the table and nudged Chris. “Look, look!” he said and Chris laughed — it was identical to the ones from Guantanamo. They playfully grappled over the cup before they each grabbed their own and, side by side, carved flowers into the cups with their fingernails.

Just following Standard Operating Procedures

Just following Standard Operating Procedures

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