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  • This is a true German - Mayan Christmas - Story by my friend Susanna Heisse, originally from East Germany, who works since 20 years day and night to try and save Lake Atitlán in Guatemala from dying. Ecology

    Susanna travelled from a harsh life in East Germany ( Her father was a Lutheran priest, which meant an enemy of the State and that is why Susanne was never allowed into High School) to become a fashion designer in West Germany and finally give her life to the attempt to save Lake Atitlan from dying. Lake Atitlan is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Susanne teaches Mayans and Non - Mayans about recycling trash, better nutrition. She teaches how to build adobe houses with eco - bricks (plastic bottles filled with plastic trash). Finally CNN and Japanese TV have done documentaries about her work. This work is her life, she does it nearly without any money, giving her heart. Twice a year she comes through San Cristobal and rests with me. We talk and eat, especially almond croissants from the new French bakery Oh - La - La, which has come to our little town recently.

    "There was once a little girl who lived in a very strange country. The country was encircled by a very high wall over which nobody could climb. When the girl was little, the wall was seldom in her thoughts. Like every little girl, her concerns were centered on waiting impatiently for two days in the year: her birthday and Christmas. Her birthday always made her feel very special and loved and Christmastime was filled with secrets and surprises which made the long dark winter brilliant.

    At Christmas all kind of delicious nuts arrived from her grandmother in packages. The festival was celebrated with candles and songs and Pfefferkuchen and presents. And every year at Christmas, once and just once, huge boxes were permitted into her country. Immediately with the boxes arrival, everybody began whispering the magic word to everybody else and soon long linesof patiently waiting people built up in front of all the fruit stores.

    Bananas was the magic word.

    The people in the queues rubbed their hands together and shifted from one foot to the other trying to stay warm during their long wait out on the cold streets. They waited many hours to buy a very few bananas. There were never enough bananas. Lucky children would receive just one. They gobbled up the winter treat immediately.

    But the little girl always divided her banana in two. One half she hid in the very back of the refrigerator hoping no one would discover it. She wanted to savour her banana happiness -- one half she ate straight away, the other half on the following day.

    She would sit on the couch in the living room with the first half and slowly enjoy every bit of it. Ah, bananas! The girl closed her eyes. She was in heaven with its taste on her tongue. The banana filled her with the sense of a soft, warm yellow sun shining on a country in the south. She tried to imagine how bananas. Did they grow on a bush like raspberries or on the ground like strawberries? Or maybe underground like potatoes? She decided bananas must grow on trees like apples.

    She fell into a day dream. In it she was running through a tropical garden in a land far, far away. Suddenly before her was a banana tree! It hung heavy with yellow, ripe bananas. A brown-skinned boy picked one from its bunch and offered it to her. She whispered to him, “Just once I would love to pick my own banana.” The boy carried her to the tree, laughing. “Go ahead. Pick as many as you’d like.” The girl picked a banana for herself -- and then another for her mother, and one for her father, then one for her brother and one each for her sisters and then one more for her grandmother and…. Soon she found herself surrounded by bananas. All around her children laughed and ate bananas. For the first time in her life she ate an entire banana all at once.

    During summer, the little girl forgot her winter dream. During summer there were cherries and pears and apples and so many berries to be enjoyed. During summer her day dreams turned to boats and pirates, wild horses and Indians. But when winter came around again, she returned to her banana dream and waited expectantly for the bananas to arrive.

    Years passed and the little girl became first a big girl and then a young woman. The young woman had become very curious to learn what was behind the wall. She had a plan. One day she packed her little suitcase and hiked up a mountain. On top of the mountain she blew up the balloons she had carried in her case. It was hard work. Her lungs and cheeks ached deeply, but she kept blowing. By evening she had inflated enough balloons to lift her slowly and gently up into the air. The breeze carried her over rivers, mountains and cities and finally over the wall.

    She sailed with her many colorful balloons around the world until finally the young woman arrived at a huge lake. On the shore rose three beautiful volcanoes. The landscape appealed to the woman and she decided to stay.

    She found a small pink house. It was a tiny, very tiny house, but it had two floors. The downstairs was a room with a table and two chairs and in the upstairs stood a bed. She called it her dollhouse. There was a miniature garden in front of the cottage, but to its side grew a vast wild jungle full of colorful birds, butterflies and orchids. Her new home was in Guatemala, Central America.

    Each morning the young woman awakened to the hythmical sound of her neighbor Doña Juanita preparing tortillas. On one such morning, she noticed a huge, dark red flower on the tree right outside her window. Bees hummed all around the bloom. Daily, the woman studied the flower. Its petals were as deep and large as bowls. After they fell, tiny hands of miniature green bananas appeared. Small and thin they danced like a spiral around the center stem. When the bananas had grown to the size of her little finger, the woman remembered her childhood dream. “It’s come true,” she thought. “I shall pick my own bananas!”

    Every day the woman bought her groceries in the local market. The market was colorful and fun. People came from the many surrounding towns and villages to sell their goods and buy their needs. Women from Santiago Atitlan sold the fish their husbands had caught in the lake that morning. Women from Sololá had displays of beans, corn and onions. Women from Santa Catalina sold their vibrantly hued woven belts and the women from Potzum offered their clay pots, pans and plates. Women from San Pablo were the vendors of rope, nets and hummocks which they had worked from the strands of the maguey cactus. Women from Jucanya were the flower and fruit sellors. Men who had journey up from the Atlantic coast had brought coconuts, pineapples and bananas. The bananas were carried from the sea up into the mountains on the tops of brightly painted busses.

    The market was full of delights for the young woman, but the very best thing was the chocolate bananas. These peeled bananas frozen on a stick and then dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with peanut crumble were heaven on earth.

    Returning from the market to her house one day, the young woman made a terrible discovery. The banana tree outside her bedroom window was gone! Her neighbors explained that men had come with electric saws and clear cut the entire jungle between her house and the lake. The woman threw herself on her bed and sobbed. She could not stop crying. The neighbors, Maya Indians, heard her and were concerned. What had happened to the always smiling foreigner they were getting to know?

    Don Juan and Doña Juana knocked on her door. What was wrong? Could they help her?

    ”My banana tree dream,” cried the woman, “my banana tree dream has been killed!” The Mayans did not understand. The woman explained her childhood dream. The Mayans were still confused. They could not imagine a land where no bananas grew. They shook their heads thinking how difficult life must be in far away places where people did not have bananas.

    The young woman fell asleep still sniffling. She awakened the next morning with a heavy, sad heart. She did not feel like going to the market. She had no appetite. But she was also restless. Each time she looked out the window and saw only stumps where yesterday there had been a jungle, she would start crying again. She decided to take a swim in the lake. Afterwards, stretched out at the beach, she drifted into her banana day dream for the last time. When she finally opened her eyes, she had decided she would no longer be sad. After all, in her new country there were bananas everywhere. She could buy as many as she wanted whenever she wanted.

    With a smile on her face she returned to the cottage. Nearing her house, she stopped short. Was she still dreaming? She rubbed her eyes. She could not believe what she saw. Right outside her window waved a huge banana tree! Around it, her neighbors grinned holding their shovels and watering cans. Don Juan and Doña Juana extended their hands. “Here you are -- a new banana dream tree!”
    Most of this story is true. I dedicate it to all dreamers and to Don Juan and Doña Juana from Jucanya at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala."


    Art by Kiki ( "The Magic Lake")

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