Being an (Ex) Prague Freedom Foundation Scholar

Four years ago I had the honor of participating in a Journalism Program that Prague Freedom Foundation sponsored. The program brought students from Kent State University and Anglo American University together to study journalism. After winning the Excellence Award for my piece on Abortion Laws in Ohio I went on to receive a grant from PFF to report on the war in Ukraine…

Four years ago I had the honor of participating in a Journalism Program that Prague Freedom Foundation sponsored. The program brought students from Kent State University and Anglo American University together to study journalism. After winning the Excellence Award for my piece on Abortion Laws in Ohio I went on to receive a grant from PFF to report on the war in Ukraine.

After returning from a week of interviewing protestors and veterans participating in Maidan – Ukraine’s revolution against corruption and Russias’s interference in local politics – members of PFF supported my photo exhibition to raise money for the Organization for Aid of Refugees.

My photos of from the heart of Maidan in Kiev, Ukraine helped raise a humble $650 to help Ukrainian refugees living in Prague. Several members from PFF attended, donated to and participated by giving a speech at the event.

Although my career path has shifted from investigative journalism and I am no longer active in any political causes, I am eternally grateful to the Prague Freedom Foundation for giving me the training and tools to make a difference in the world and in my home country.

Here’s a video about Prague Freedom Foundation’s Cause – spoiler alert, I make a brief appearance in between US Ambassadors and Radio Free Europe Journalists.

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My 10 Favorite Excuses for Not Going to the Gym

Rainy weather can be pretty depressing. And wet. But…

You have an umbrella, don’t you? You’re not a witch so you won’t melt if a droplet falls on your head, right? I hope so…

My goal is to go to the gym 5 times a week: Monday – Friday during my lunch break. I began this routine in Prague when my gym was a 10-minute walk from my office. Now I live in China and I work from home which makes me lazy and full of excuses.

Here are my favorite ones:

1. I have WAY too much work

This is one of my most popular excuses because it’s the easiest to justify. I can’t just walk away from my unread emails and intimidatingly long To-Do list to go to the gym, right? WRONG!

Taking a break, especially one involving physical activity helps clear your head and work more productively. Plus you can always stay later to finish the work!

2. My head hurts.

That sucks but how bad is a headache? Will taking a walk in the fresh air help it go away? You can probably still take it easy and try the elliptical or stationary bike. Or you can just do some stretching, yoga or even meditate.

If it’s a bad headache, exercise can make it worse – but it can also decrease pain due to the release of endorphins. Just walk on over to the gym and see what happens.

3. But it’s raining outside… 

Rainy weather can be pretty depressing. And wet. But…

You have an umbrella, don’t you?
You’re not a witch so you won’t melt if a droplet falls on your head, right?

Just make sure to keep your sneakers clean or you might not be let into the gym!

4. Ouch! I’m sore from going to the gym yesterday 😥

Good! You’re doing something right!

Do your legs hurt? Skip the treadmill and lift some weights or do some sit-ups.
Do your arms hurt? Hit the treadmill.

Does your ENTIRE body hurt? Really? Well, then you’re probably doing something wrong… and you should stretch more before and after exercising.

5. There are too many men at my gym O.O

Most women don’t enjoy being ogled by sweaty men. And I happen to be one of those girls. Luckily I live in China where men (and women) are generally more interested in starting at their phones… or poking each other’s six-packs. So at most, they will glance at you and then leave you alone.

6. Ugh, there’s no air-conditioning!

It’s ALWAYS either too hot or too cold

When it was 40°C (and felt like 50°C) the gym was almost unbearable with no air-conditioning. But it was still possible to do a little of everything: run a kilometer, lift some weights, do some stretching.

Unfortunately, it’s a myth that sweating more helps you lose more weight – but there are health benefits.

7. My knees, hips and/or back hurt. I can’t do it…

I’m only 24 but I have deformed kneecaps, gout arthritis and lots of other fun problems. Sometimes I start running and my knees hurt immediately.

On good days I’ll continue running until the pain stops. On bad days I’ll get off the treadmill and do something else. There is ALWAYS something else you can do at the gym.

8. My hair looks great! I don’t want to mess it up.

I just washed my hair and I don’t want to have to wash it again. Yes, this is really one of the excuses I use. Go to the gym – if you’re really too lazy to wash your hair again, don’t do cardio and just lift weights or do something that won’t make you sweat as much.

But seriously, how long does it take to wash your hair?

9. My hair is gross… I’m too embarrassed to be seen!

Yup, another ridiculous excuse I like to use. First of all, gyms are NOT runways. You’re expected to look gross at the gym. Just put a hat on or something. Or go wash it…

10. But my sports bra is in the wash… *wobble*

It’s either my sports bra, my favorite running pants or my sneakers. Wearing the wrong clothes CAN make it harder to do certain exercises. You can fix this from the start – buy two or three sets of everything.

If you need to wear something uncomfortable, just focus on exercises where it doesn’t matter. Just don’t ever run in the wrong shoes or without socks – you will 100% regret it and it can even injure you.

What are YOUR favorite/most convincing excuses???

Insects on the Menu – Entomophagy in Prague

Jiskra loves to experiment with food and began cooking with insects five years ago. The lunch menu was much more extensive than the average insect tasting with mealworms, crickets, grasshoppers and cockroaches on offer. You could eat a three-course cricket meal with crickets in the soup as well as the typically-Czech fried cheese but also covered in chocolate as dessert…

Wednesday, March 16th was a special day for Prague-based HP and Microsoft employees who were offered insect meals for lunch. The seemingly ordinary cafeteria was decorated with plastic spiders, allergy warnings and facts about entomophagy.

“The six-legged menu attracted people who really wanted to experiment,” said Martin Jiskra, head chef and manager of Momento DELTA restaurant. “I was nervous at first but it turned out to be a great success.”

Jiskra loves to experiment with food and began cooking with insects five years ago. The lunch menu was much more extensive than the average insect tasting with mealworms, crickets, grasshoppers and cockroaches on offer. You could eat a three-course cricket meal with crickets in the soup as well as the typically-Czech fried cheese but also covered in chocolate as dessert.

“It was the first time I organized an insect-eating event in a restaurant like this,” Jiskra said, “but the outcome was so good that we’ll probably do it again.”

Although it was the first insect feast at Momento DELTA, insect tasting events are fairly common in the Czech Republic, however, selling them as food in a supermarket isn’t exactly legal. According to Czech law, insects arenot considered a food which makes them unsuitable for human consumption.

This law doesn’t make serving insects illegal at events – however, it prevents restaurants from having them on their permanent menu. However for events like this, if you follow all the hygiene laws and regulations, there are no problems. Jiskra has proved this before when he served other exotic meals including bear and zebra meat.

The chef points out that cooking with insects is much safer than handling common meats such as beef and chicken. There are no GMOs or antibiotics in insects and they cannot carry any diseases that are harmful to humans because they would die from them too. There are no safety concerns from an insect from a certified breeder that is handled correctly – with the exception of allergies: people who are allergic to shellfish are warned that they may react similarly when eating insects.

Before cooking insects, Jiskra recommends that chefs and culinary enthusiasts read published literature about the topic. There are currently four books about entomophagy in Czech and they explain how to handle the insects prior to cooking them.

The insects served in Momento DELTA were closely watched to ensure that they look healthy, aren’t eating their excrements and were fed oregano for two days to enhance their flavor. The feedback on the event was great and approximately 480 insect meals were served. While the restaurant received fewer visitors than usual, very few people asked for insect-less meals.

Two days before the event, Jiskra organized a presentation to explain the benefits and history of insect-eating around the world. Insects contain proteins, minerals and enzymes that are great for the human body. They can also be bred, reared and processed much more sustainably than other meats which could have a large positive impact on the environment and the economy. Currently, the largest issues are the legal and bureaucratic ones.

“If people’s attitude and understanding about eating insects changes; laws will too,” concludes Jiskra.

Originally published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olena-kagui/insects-on-the-menu_b_9506770.html

Volunteering at a Dogsled Farm – Snowdragons, Austria – Part 3 (Guest Post)

This week started very with a training where I could be the co-driver for Lukas. This time, we took the smaller cart with eight dogs, because Birgit did also train and she took six dogs. It was very cold, no wind, perfect conditions. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that I could be the co-driver so I wasn’t very good prepared with my cameras…

It is kind of strange, in between I think there is somehow a routine in my day or there were lazy days with not much action, but then again, there is always something happening, so there is ALWAYS something to tell 😉

By Sheida Nasseri (Guest Blogger)

Please find the original blog post, and all the cute photos, here: http://butterflies-needtofly.blogspot.co.at/2016/10/volunteering-at-dogsled-farm_31.html

Week 17. – 23. October 2016

This week started very with a training where I could be the co-driver for Lukas. This time, we took the smaller cart with eight dogs, because Birgit did also train and she took six dogs. It was very cold, no wind, perfect conditions. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that I could be the co-driver so I wasn’t prepared with my cameras. I just had my iPhone 6 with me and there is no rely on that smartphone as soon it is a bit colder. The battery just dies, I guess, it somehow must have been damaged when I was in Norway where it was -18°C. The training’s duration is much longer now, the dogs already run 11/12 km. I could see a big difference; the dogs are so much stronger than two weeks before. On our way we saw a few deer, rabbits and even a stag, very close by!!! And my iPhone was DEAD aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrggghhhh – I must complain to Apple =P

I told you already that Lukas is evil, didn’t I? He loves to tease us and prank us. We (Maria and I) went on the next morning for a walk with Aliy and Laska. On the way, it started to rain. Maria and I though, didn’t stop, we said we will go for a big walk, so that the girls are more chilled in the house. The rain just got stronger and stronger, nevertheless, we walked an hour and even had fun. We were playing music, danced and sang.

We were soaking wet! When we returned, we were standing in front of the entrance to dry up the dogs, when the door opened and a wide grinning Lukas was standing in the door with his laptop in his hand and played “Why does it always rain on me?” seriously? He waited at his window for our return so he could play us the song, and while we were undressing and drying the dogs, he gave us some more rain songs from his playlist…”It’s raining men” and “singing in the rain” 😀 he is crazy! 😉 the rest of the day, we pretty much spent lazy at home.

Therefore, the day after, we were really busy! Despite the training in the morning, we helped a little bit with building the new kennel (for the puppies), went on a hike and did some more work.

On that morning, Lukas said we shall let the puppies stay with Artac and Arthur, because Atreju is lately a little bit tense because of the puppies. I think, he doesn’t like to play the babysitter all day long =P so we let them in the kennel and they also seemed to get along. Then we did our lunch break. When we returned, we wanted to check on the puppies and noticed that somehow, only Star was left in the kennel. Hmmmm… but where was Nova? We know that she loves to crawl in every hole or corner which exist, but we couldn’t discover one. We almost wanted to look for her outside the kennel, when we noticed that between the wooden wall and the fence, there is a little bit space. There she was.

Obviously she crawled inside and couldn’t get outside anymore. I was trying very hard to get her through, but she was so scared, that she didn’t dare to come too close. We called Lukas and we were trying and thinking of a way. Then, I said the only way how we could get her out, would be, if someone would climb over the wall, grab her, lift her, someone else take her and climb back again. Well, the only person small enough for that was me – of course =P So I got my jacket and shoes off and climbed over and got her. She was sooooo relieved to be back outside 😀 of course, no one took pictures of my heroic action… well, I guess we all were concerned about Nova 😉

Stuck in between wall and fence, I had to jump on the dog house, and get over the wall to lift her up!

So much action on one day and I still had to drive to Prague. YES – I got four days off, to go and visit my boyfriend in Prague and see my friends. I went with the bus to Brno, where my boyfriend picked me up and we drove together to Prague. I won’t tell too much about Prague, I met a lot of friends, old colleagues, new acquaintances (my friend got her Baby :D), slept a lot, went partying, got new inspirations about my future plans and enjoyed just some alone time with my boyfriend. I must admit, at one point there were too many people and I sensed also a lot of negative energies (not towards me, in general) which kind of got me unbalanced, but in total it was really nice seeing all again.

Week 24. – 30. October 2016

Back in Gnadendorf, I was really happy to see the dogs again. You get attached to them (damn, what will I do when I leave for good?). The next morning, we should have had a training with the big cart. So we harnessed all dogs, started to set them up on the main line when suddenly they started to move – we all were puzzled, looked up and saw that the panic snap (additional break which is attached to a pole) just dissolved itself from the carabiner.

We got it somehow tight again and when all dogs were set up, I ran the hill up to open the gate, I was just about to touch the gate when I suddenly heard Lukas screaming my name. I turned around and just saw a mess! All dogs were standing completely mixed up and not in line, I ran down, holding the dogs and Lukas told us to unleash all dogs. So, we did, the loop of the mainline which is attached to the cart, ripped. Wtf…. Seriously, first the panic snap, then the main line – what was going on??? We were so in luck, that this happened within the yard and not outside on the track! How on earth could you get the dogs back then? Hardly possible. Training cancelled. What an excitement in the morning.

Rest of the day, was pretty lazy. We went for two hikes, but besides that nothing special happened on that day. Ah wait… there is something, Lukas does sing sometimes new versions of already existing songs. And he loves to put my name into that song. Well, first of all, he calls me SheiShei, then he started singing “Shei Shei Shei, Shei Shei Shei, shake your booty” from the song “Shake your booty”. His newest version is (a little bit early) “Sheida bell, Sheida bell, Sheida bell rock” from “Jingle bell rock” and then he is walking on the place and shakes his arms (I guess it shall be dancing :D) I need to film it, then you will see what I mean 😉

The next day, I drove with Lukas to Vienna, he had some business over there. It was a very rainy day, that means most of the time, lazy day for us 😉 The day after, we had to take preparations for the race which took part in Reingers from Friday to Sunday. We had to pack all kind of stuff, Lukas gave Miriam and me, two sport bags to clean which were lying in the shed. We carried it to the hose pipe to clean it. When I turned around the bag, I saw that there was a butterfly on the bag. It had its wings closed. It seemed as if there were stuck to each other. I didn’t know if it just hatched or it was getting ready for its winter sleep, no idea, but it had to fly away so that I could clean the bag. I didn’t dare to touch the wings; they are so sensitive. So, I touched its legs with my finger, and very slowly, it tried to open its wings and just watch what beauty I discovered:

The next day, we did a few preparations and around 11am we had to bring the dogs into the transporter in the boxes. OMG – why do I always imagine that something like that could happen quiet and easy? Such chaos and stress! It was almost impossible to get the dogs singled out of the kennels. There was always at least one dog, who escaped and you just saw us all the time running after dogs – Lukas thought that it was very amusing – of course! =P and of course I hurt myself! Two dogs pushed against their kennel door and it hit me on my knee – outch L after all dogs were placed, the cart was put inside, the caravan attached to the transporter, and Lukas, Maria and I started our way to Reingers.

It is just Maria who should come to the race, but because Birgit had to work that day and wanted to join Maria and Lukas in the evening, Lukas said, I should join them and help to set up everything over there. When Birgit arrives, I could take her car and drive home. Said, done. We drove there and it was interesting to see how many people and dogs were there.

I talked to an older couple, Bianca and Ernst, who were there with their Hounds, Alaskan Huskies and Siberian Huskies. They used to live 20 years in Düsseldorf, moved then to Austria and now they are just about to move to Sweden/Lapland. They bought a house with a big yard for them and their dogs. I was delighted to hear that, I told them that I always wanted to visit Lapland to see the Aurora Borealis and maybe I could visit them over there 😉 they took my word, and gave me their contacts so that when I am about to go Lapland I just shall give them a call J There you go, you’ll never know who you will meet! Loved that. It turned very late until I came back to Gnadendorf, but everything turned out quite well.

The day after, Miriam and I had a very relaxed day. We went for walks with the dogs which stayed here, cleaned a bit the house, cooked together, watched movies and we talked a lot. While telling her a bit about my past, I found out WHY I changed my plans concerning tourism. I was always wondering, why I went another path but tourism, because I remembered that I had that idea in the very beginning. I always said it was something like my parents told me to do something serious. In the end, it was partially true, but the real reason why I didn’t study Tourism was, that all study courses existing including Tourism are private! At least in Germany. You must pay a lot of money, which I didn’t had. I went to business fares to inform myself about my possibilities and was devastated to find out that there is no option for me L at least not without taking a big loan from a bank or to win lottery. At one point, I decided to go in direction economics and business, to have a certain basic knowledge and I would then adjust in the right direction. Obviously, I forgot on my way what my original plan was. Well, it took me a while but I found back somehow 😉

At the weekend, Miri and I were going on hikes, Miri wrote on her short stories, I wrote on my blog, watched movies, I tamed the brown chicken – oh yeah – I think I never mentioned that we have chickens, did I? Six chickens. They are really funny, I think they have no names (sad) but every time when I got on their place to collect some wood for fire, they follow me and come really close because they think I could have something to eat 😀 I noticed, that the brown one, let’s call her “Little brownie” is more tame than the others, so I tried to pet her and then to carry her, see yourself what was the result 😉

All in one, very easy going. I was laughing today because my idea of a relaxing time is to have JUST five dogs, but I think when you usually deal with 18 dogs that’s natural 🙂

(Guest Post) Volunteering at a dogsled farm – Snowdragons in Austria Part 4

Here we’ll go again, somehow a lot of things happened and then, not again. The same weekend where Miri and I were alone (Lukas, Birgit and Maria went to Reingers in Austria for a cart race), a previous volunteer arrived. She was the last time only two weeks with Lukas and wanted now to come to visit the dogs and Lukas for a few days. When Lukas, Birgit and Maria came back, they all were kind of relieved and happy to be back with all dogs and all in one piece. Obviously, there were some catastrophe going on in Reingers. Due to the weather circumstances Lukas decided to not let the dogs run on all three days. It was too warm!

By Sheida Nasseri (Guest Blogger)

Please find the original post, including photos, here: http://butterflies-needtofly.blogspot.com/2016/11/volunteering-at-dogsled-farm.html
I would like to express here that the dog’s wellbeing is Lukas first concern and therefore he didn’t stress the dogs to run fast or on all three days, like others did! Therefore, he knew there would be no chance to win that race and this race wasn’t important, it is more like a training. Usually, Birgit would have gone with four or five dogs and Lukas with eight. Due to the fact, they left out one day, they decided to run with the big team instead, so with all thirteen dogs. Usually there are several dog handlers which are supporting the Musher holding the dogs and release them in time when the training or race starts. When they wanted to start running, one of the front dog handler didn’t let go fast enough the leash and fell, so six dogs were running over him, and the seven behind stopped to not run over the guy and the main line snapped through the force from both sides going in different directions. It snapped in the middle where Braxi was attached to; I am not sure if you know what that means.
The dogs have a neck line attached to their collar and one leash which is attached to the harness on their back (as you can see on the picture above); so when the main line snaps in the middle, the neckline is attached to the six dogs who were now running free and his backside to the leash which belongs to the dogs who stopped; they could have ripped him in two pieces, but lucky as Braxi is, his collar was not too tight on his neck, so he could get out of his collar and was standing still in shock! Two dog handler jumped on their quadbikes and drove after the six dogs which were running their race without the cart and musher. They caught them fast, but that was a really BIG shock for all of them! Lukas directly bought new and stronger lines and a new nice collar for Braxi! J That was somehow too much, three times in one week something snapped.

 

Being back, Maria had the next four days off and went for Vienna. Miri also left on the next day, so I was left with Silvia. She had no experience in doing the routines, so it was pretty much me doing the work … but Birgit and Lukas also helped 😉 I am very thankful for her pictures and videos, though. When we had training, she was filming and taking pictures. Interesting to see, because I never get the chance to take picture during training (Lukas would most probably kill me, if I would take pics instead of helping ;-)) I wanted to post the video, but somehow I had difficulties to upload it. Sadly, therefore just one pic.

 

Before Maria came back, we had a spontaneous photo shoot for our race which we organize in December. I think, I already mentioned that we are organizing an own race here in our region. It will be on the weekend of the 10/11th December. We wanted to hang out some posters to make advertisement and Lukas asked me if I could take the role as runner, or so called Canicross. There will be Sabrina, who is also one of the helpers who will be on the bike and Lukas on the cart. Tim ( he is only 9years old) is going to take the pictures. He is really good at it. Lukas told me, that we will start running up the hill in our yard to the open place and that I have to be really fast, because I have to keep up the pace with a bike and a cart! I was doubting that I could keep up that pace, but I didn’t count on Braxi JHe was dragging me up that hill so fast, that I even overtook the cart and the bike and was not able to slow down!  I have to admit, a little bit painful, because the belt is kind of dividing your ass, but that was actually really funny. Here, some of the pics.

 

When Maria came back, I left on the next morning for my long weekend off. I also went to Vienna with my boyfriend. It was really lovely! We had a nice hotel, with some crazy architecture, went for some sightseeing, shopping and we even went for the opera “la cenerentola” (Cinderella). I loved that weekend and I will miss him even more after it.
Being back, I was a bit down. I think, I caught something, I felt not that strong. Birgit and Lukas wanted to go away for a few days and that morning we still had a training. I got to go with Lukas and finally had the chance to drive the cart and I discovered my hands are too small to hold the brake of that big cart :-/ typical! So mean L at least, I could drive a few times when we were going more uphill and I didn’t need to handle the brake =P

 

When we returned, I didn’t feel really good and lay down for the rest of the day. I got sick. With Birgit and Lukas being away, there was not much to do, so I could rest. Miri and I found out that Maria (coming from New Zealand) never watched “the Hobbit” nor “Lord of the Rings” we were shocked!!!! We started watching that week all Hobbit movies and kept on going on with the Lord of the Rings J Lukas and Birgit returned on the 11th of November. The next morning, we started with a training and Lukas suggested after the training, that Maria and I could take the car, so we can go to Buschberg, he saw some pics that there were still a little bit snow laying and  Maria is so eager to see snow. She didn’t really see much snow in her life. In addition, she didn’t get up there to see the nice view, so we went together. It was much fun, I also felt better again.
Sometimes when we got too much paper and carton leftover we do a big fire and burn everything. Maria is freaking scared of fire, so she ripped the carton and I did the fire. I am not afraid, but I have respect. We were making a decent fire, at one point, Lukas came and asked why we are not putting the whole carton at once into the fire. Well, he did, and the fire got so big. He was laughing about us, and made (and is still doing) fun about us ripping paper into small pieces and says “I already start a fire, I will be done in two days” and then just cracks of laughter!

 

Later that day, we went to the chickens and I noticed that little brownie was not outside with the others. When I checked the shed, I directly noticed that something couldn’t be right. She wasn’t on her eggs, but was laying in the corner, with her face down in the Stroh. I tried to get her up, but she seemed not able to get on her feet, so I put her in one of the incubators so that she didn’t fall on her face. We went back to the house and told Lukas. He noticed that she had diarrhea, he tried to make her drink water or eat sth but couldn’t. Brigit’s father, Pauli, also checked on her but he said that she probably won’t make it. A few hours later she already was dead L I couldn’t believe it, the tamest and most productive chicken died. Still sad about that.
The next day, I didn’t feel good at all! That was the first time I stayed almost the whole day in bed, instead of helping. I couldn’t even help with the night training, Lukas and Maria went alone. I really fear that I will miss the European Championship. The next morning, I got up, and helped with the training, but it did cost me so much energy that I was shaking for almost ten minutes… had to rest afterwards a little bit. Lukas asked me if I think I will be fit for the Championship. He will need someone who is 100% fit. Birgit is this time not participating due to health issues, so it will be just Lukas with eight dogs and one dog handler. I couldn’t tell him, I said, I will wait for the next day and when I don’t feel better I will stay.
If you want to know if I made it to the European Championship, stay posted. Within a week, my next post will be online. Hope to see you again J

Mealworm Monday: What is the Hive’s Green Light?

This weeks Mealworm Monday features dealing with the green light of the Hive, the world’s first edible insect desktop farm by Livin Farms!

Read more about it at Livin Farms:

To Japan (Guest Post)

On Sunday, March 01, I stood next to my husband as we waited for the bus. It was early and his eyes were still squinting at everything as he wasn’t fully awake yet. I squeezed his hand in the cold, feeling the warmth. My stomach felt like it was in my throat with nervous energy. The bus for the airport pulled up and I shoved my way through the crowd of people squeezing through the doors…

Today, I will travel to Japan after dreaming about it for years! I won’t have time to write about it until a few weeks later, so let me share a blog post written by a dear friend about her journey to Japan a few years ago.

On Sunday, March 1st, I stood next to my husband as we waited for the bus. It was early and his eyes were still squinting at everything as he wasn’t fully awake yet. I squeezed his hand in the cold, feeling the warmth. My stomach felt like it was in my throat with nervous energy. The bus for the airport pulled up and I shoved my way through the crowd of people squeezing through the doors. I grabbed a support pole and turned in time to see him standing alone outside as the bus pulled away. I stared out the window on the way to the airport and took deep breaths as I forced myself to hold back the tears.

By Rachel Kitai (Guest Blogger)

Please find the original post, as well as more pictures, here: https://guyandgalphotoblog.wordpress.com/2015/08/15/to-japan/

Rachel Kitai is a traveler and an artist, check out her art here: http://rachelkitai.com/

The Prague airport is one of the easiest and relaxed airports I have ever been through; it’s also one of the smallest. With my carry-on bag and purse I was through security in less than 5 minutes. No taking off my shoes. No pat-downs. No mean glances or rude comments. I made my through the airport, grabbing a pastry on my way to the gate on the other side of the small airport.

About 2 hours later, I was in Amsterdam. With only a 3-hour layover, I focused completely on getting to my gate. My stomach was churning with the thought of missing my flight or being delayed in any way. I followed sign after sign, walking quickly pulling my bright pink bag behind me. After 20 minutes of walking, I got to a series of windows/booths. I took out my passport and waited in line for my turn.

When I got to the front of the line, the passport agent squinted at my passport and I handed him my biometric card which shows that I have gone through the mess that is getting a visa to work in live in the Czech Republic. He stared at both for a long while before saying, “You know this is about to expire, right?” Before I could respond and explain that I know and that I’m a good citizen of the world with plans to follow all the rules and renew it when I got back from my trip, he had stamped my passport and handed it back to me, calling the next person in line and ushering me on my way.

Still doing my best to follow the signs to my gate, I turned left and followed the crowd down a flight of stairs and through a hallway to a very huge crowd waiting in a series of lines. After 30 minutes, I finally made my way to the front of the line, only to be told that I had been waiting in line with people trying to exit the airport. I had apparently followed the wrong signs. Shoving my way through the crowd, down the hallway, and up the flight of stairs, I saw my error. With all of the construction in that one area the hallway I was supposed to walk down was partially obstructed. Sighing in relief, I continued my way down and through the airport.

I eventually made my way to the gate which had it’s own set of security and metal detectors. I waited in line with a large number of Asian people. It’s safe to say I was the tallest person in line. 30 minutes later, we were allowed to go through the security for this gate which felt like a miniature version of the one I went through earlier that day. The security for this gate was significantly more strict than the security in the Prague airport. I had to take off my belt and shoes. In addition, I had to take every single electronic device and cord out of my bags and into it’s own bin.

After another 30 minutes of waiting, they were finally boarding. Knowing that this was a 10 hour flight, I had chosen an aisle seat ahead of time so that I could get out and stretch my legs with ease. I didn’t want to constantly ask my seat-mates to move simply because I develop spontaneous restless leg syndrome on planes. Unfortunately, this notion did not deter the two women sitting next to me in the middle and window seats. Clearly a mother and daughter duo, I had no success at falling asleep or even making it through a full movie as they were asking to get out every 1-2 hours.

I don’t remember all that I watched or did on the plane for those 10 hours but I do remember watching You’re Not You with Hillary Swank and Emmy Rossum. I remember this primarily because of how much I was crying. If you don’t know, the movie is about a successful pianist that develops ALS and the dysfunctional college student that ends up taking care of her. Super emotional. I mean, me. Well, the movie did have its moments but my reactions were merely exacerbated by how I was feeling being separated from my husband. In a nutshell, it was a salt-waterfall down my face for a solid 2 hours.

At one point, I was fed. The airline gave each person two options: A Western option and an Eastern option. Before I tell you which option I chose, I actually re-read a lot of my blog posts recently and I noticed one thing in particular: I force myself to try new foods quite often. More often than not, the meal is only okay and I don’t eat half of it because I don’t like a particular spice or sauce but despite this, I try it and then I continue to try new things. I asked the flight attendant to describe the dishes to me and I foolishly chose the Eastern dish. In the moment, I was proud of myself as the Asian flight attendant raised his eyebrows and nodded in surprise. I thought that he thought, “Wow, the white girl is trying the Eastern dish. Impressive.” Smiling, he handed me the Eastern dish, which I only ate 1/2 of. Now, I say I foolishly chose the Eastern option not because it was bad or unpleasant but because I am a notoriously picky eater and I was on a 10 hour flight without many other food options, if any at all.

At 12:35pm on Monday, March 1st, I landed in Fukuoka, Japan. Before exiting the plane, everyone was handed a small document and I was clueless. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with that document or where I was supposed to go. I had done research before traveling but I didn’t see anything about having to fill out any special document or have any information prepared. Plus, as I only had a 3.5 hour layover before going to Osaka, my stomach was in my throat again.

I followed the massive amount of people and waited in line and then did my best to fill out the document which was confusing and unclear. In fact, I ended up grabbing extra copies and filling it out three different times. When it was my turn to talk with the customs/documents people, I clearly screwed something up. The agent did not speak English well or at all and she was very adamant about having the address where I was staying. I kept on saying that I was staying with my sister in Osaka and I didn’t know her address or what hotel we were staying in. I wrote down half of her address in Hiroshima from what I remembered but it was probably wrong and not all there and not in Japanese. She asked for my sister’s phone number and I nearly threw up my hands in despair. How was I supposed to know any of this information! Two agents ended up coming over and saying very softly that it was okay this time but I needed to be prepared next time. After a firm finger wagging, Japan became the second country after the Czech Republic to get my fingerprints. That’s right the good ol’ US of A doesn’t even have my fingerprints. With that and a photograph, I was given a 90 day tourist visa.

I walked down a hallway, and then down an escalator to another section where I had to wait in line for something that I didn’t know anything about or understand. I grabbed a form and started to fill it out as I slowly made my way to the front. The customs agent looked at my form and my bag and my face before he spoke words that were so soft and low it was as if he was whispering in a movie theater located inside of a testing center inside of a library. After asking him to repeat himself three times with no success I decided to nod my head which satisfied him and then he gave me my passport and bag and let me go.

After this, I had to take a bus completely around the entirety of the airport. I had entered in the international terminal and I needed to go to the domestic terminal so that I could fly to Osaka and that required a 20 minute bus ride around the entirety of the airport. I hoped and I prayed that I was on the right bus going to the right place and I guess I was because I got there. I entered the domestic terminal, found my check-in area and waited in a long line so that I could send my bag through an x-ray machine again. Apparently, the airplane was SO small, that they had to check my bag. It was just way too big to fit in the overhead section of plane.

After this, I made my way upstairs so I could go through security. This security looked like it was from the 1970s. It was both bulky and really small. All of the baskets were way too small. I had to put every single item into it’s own bin and even then, they were all too small., I had to scan my ticket at an electronic point and I apparently scanned the wrong bar code because it flashed red and someone had to come to help me. After going through security, I made my way to what I thought was my gate which looked like saloon doors in front of a large hallway next to a bunch of shops. I bought a sandwich from one of those shops and sat down to wait. After 30 minutes or so, I made friends with a German and we went to the saloon doors to ask if we were supposed to do something. Apparently, we were just supposed to know that we had to walk up and scan our ticket to go through the saloon doors and through a hallway and down some stairs to enter a shuttle to take us to our plane.

One hour and 20 minutes later I was in Osaka, Japan.