A couple hundred years ago the American Oto Indians looked over the dry, waving fields of prairie grass and named it Nebraska, "the land of flat water." Moving in the wind, the tall brown grass resembled the waves of a calm sea. This prairie image, along with memories of stretching horizons, endless flat landscapes, and some of the world's most stunning sunsets, are often what I think of when I think of my American home.
The longer I am away from Nebraska the more I realize how truly special the place is to me. There are no magnificent mountains or sparkling blue oceans. But as far as the eye can see are series after series of geometric shapes across the land. Mapping the state are circular irrigation tracks, square farms, slithering drainage steps, and straight country roads. There are one-street towns; some with imaginative names like Wahoo, Red Cloud, Beaver Crossing and Weeping Water. In each place you'll find friendly people, lots of pickup trucks, and occasionally children flattening pennies on railroad tracks. At the very minimum most towns have a bar, a church, a soft-serve ice cream stand, and a gas station selling beef jerky. It's a simple enough kind of place, I suppose, but beautiful for that very reason.
I've seen cranes dancing in marshy fields and tumbleweeds rolling unstopped for miles by a perpetual wind. Haystacks dot the landscape and cows outnumber people four to one. I've seen windmills twisted by tornadoes, and in the dry soil I've found arrowheads from those early Indians who called Nebraska their home. Though I notice small changes every time I return, in my memory there is very little difference. And that is comforting to me. It is good to know that wherever I go there are places like Nebraska that rarely change.
Before moving to Akita I taught English in Prague (Praha). I taught children, housewives, and organizations. From my apartment to my different lessons I often traveled by tram, bus, metro (subway) and on foot. I traveled the city and learned more and more about it and the people who lived there every day. After my lessons I often rode the tram back to my apartment. I rode it from the hilltop at Prague Castle, then crossed the Vltava River to Old Town, past the National Theater and then on to my neighborhood, Vinohrady. Vinohrady means "vineyards", because long ago my neighborhood was covered in grapevines for making wine. Today, however, the area is filled with so much art and architectural beauty. There are cafes, restaurants, museums, and my favorite, movie theaters.
One of the great things about living in central Prague was that within walking distance of my apartment were dozens of small art-house theaters. These theaters showed some of the most obscure and creative films. A movie would play for an evening or two then be replaced by something else. Often, I would be the only one in the theater. I listened as the projectionist prepared the movie reels, turned up the volume, and then pulled the curtains. It was a process that I really enjoyed, and it's what made me fall in love with movies again. And they were cheap; about 500 yen!
But nothing is free in the Czech Republic. One of the surprises for visitors to the country is the price of services and items that many countries offer for free. If you go to the supermarket, you will have to pay for the plastic bag that you put your groceries in. If you buy a salad from a potraviny (a convenience store), you will have to pay for the fork. At a fast-food restaurant a packet of ketchup will cost you extra. And if you need to use a public toilet, you will have to have money because it's rarely free.
Overall, however, living in the Czech Republic was a fantastic experience. The country is very small, so it is easy to travel across. Outside of Prague there are wonderful areas for hiking, rafting and skiing. There is something for everyone, but for those enjoy art Prague is especially wonderful. The city is like one big museum.