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  • If Tina hadn't been so horribly ill in the winter of 1978, I would have sent away for an artificial Christmas tree. The old hands at the American Embassy told us that was the only practical way to do it in tropical Yaounde, Cameroon. But in those frantic weeks of fever, doctor visits, misdiagnosis, blood tests, and sleeplessness while I watched my four-year-old daughter suffer, I had not a thought in my head about planning ahead for the holidays.

    Then, just in time for Christmas, the medical consultants discovered the cause of Tina's unremitting pain and fever. She had quinsy, also known as peritonsillar abscess, and a powerful antibiotic gave her relief within 48 hours. Still weak and frail from weight loss and the toll taken by weeks of high fever, Tina managed a smile when we told her she would be well enough to attend the embassy's holiday party.

    That's when I realized we didn't have a tree. In my exhausted and traumatized state, the importance of a Christmas tree grew and filled my brain like an obsession. I called around to see if anyone in our expat community had a spare fake tree. No luck. As I gazed out the window, scouring my mind for inspiration, I stared at our back yard where it merged into the jungle. The primeval forest mocked me. So many trees...but none the right shape or size.

    In the end, we dug up and potted one of the many banana trees from our garden. Tina and Dakota, her five-year-old brother, wound garlands around the trunk. I sewed our other decorations onto the broad banana leaves with strong black thread. My husband draped a string of lights among the branches to complete the festive look.

    Unorthodox, yes, but our crazy banana Christmas tree lives in our memories as a symbol of one of the happiest holidays in our family's history.
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