Europe 2017: Back to the Secret Garden

I write from my seat aboard an airplane flying us out of Bucharest, Romania and west towards Madrid, Spain. Madrid marks the last destination to which I will travel with my illustrious sister and fantastic traveling partner Theresa. After a couple short days in Madrid, she will return to Chicagoland to prepare for her next adventure back to Zambia and I will continue on to Kiev, Ukraine. We’ll have to savor the last leg of our adventure together, and savor I have no doubt we will.

So much adventure has already transpired since I wrote last. I’ll try to do it justice in this post. Next time though, you’ll just have to come with us too. 🙂

Turkey: Encapsulation

Our last two days in Turkey were arguably the best. On Sunday morning, some fantastic friends and hosts in the form of an English teacher at the school with which I had connected (who had been one of the two troopers that picked us up at the airport at 3am when we arrived), his lovely fiancee, and stately younger brother picked us up in the borrowed school minivan and took us to enjoy some of the finest facets of Izmir. We talked and joked through traditional (decadent) Turkish breakfast in a surrounding countryside village, then an hour’s drive to the supposed last house of the Virgin Mary, then an exploration of the ruined city of Ephasus. Driving back to Izmir proper in the friendly afternoon sunshine, we drove to the buzzing part of the city along the waterfront and ate in a seaside cafe, accepting the opportunity to try a Turkish beer. Our gracious hosts invited us back to their future shared apartment to watch their rival soccer teams’ match that evening and we enjoyed a wonderful relaxed evening of dessert, chai (tea), snacks, friendly rivalry, and jenga before they drove us home.

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Our merry group in the ruins of Ephasus

On Monday, our final full day before leaving Turkey, Theresa and I spent a free morning writing and reading at a beautiful, flower-adorned trendy cafe. We then headed back to school where I ran a practice for their U11 (under age 11) team. We took pictures with the school managers and with the team beforehand to commemorate. After we had concluded practice, our coach hosts Burak and Serhat invited us to come watch a last U13 match before concluding the night. We had time before the game, so they took us to dine at a restaurant inside a mall near the school. We sat on a mountain-view balcony and ate another traditional Turkish dish similar to a flatbread pizza topped with ground lamb along with lettuce-wrapped ground meats, salad, and a traditional yogurt drink reminiscent of kefir. The entree was served on a plank of a platter that spanned the entire table.

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Leading a U11 basketball practice

After our gracious hosts refused to allow us to help pay for the meal yet again, we embarked for the game. Along the way, we discussed strategies for how we could help each other in our careers and craft going forward – I’m excited about the prospects we discussed and hope I can help them in the future as much as they were helpful and hospitable to Theresa and myself.

After the game, another exciting study in Turkish culture, we rode home in style on the school’s Mercedes bus and were dropped off back at our apartment at perhaps 11pm. The morning would come early, so we finished whatever picking we needed to complete and hit the sack.

3:30am brought an arranged taxi to our street and, leaving our homey little apartment, off we went. Our transit through the airport and onto our first flight of the day Tuesday morning was much smoother and more successful than the previous leg of our journey. After an hour of layover in Athens, we were in the air again headed for Bucharest.

Romania

We clambered off the plane and through the familiar baggage claim in Bucharest’s Otopeni Airport. Roxana, the First Lady of LIFE Romania (the organization with which I connected the first time I came to Romania two years previous), had graciously come to pick us up at the airport and drove us (by way of a respite at her house to eat and wait for her two young sons to finish school so we could pick them up on the way) the hour+ to the site where summer camps are held in Targoviște. This was the haven where I spent my first two weeks in Romania and is now one of my favorite spots on earth.

I had desired to return to Romania ever since boarding my outbound plane two years earlier, and that dream was finally realized. My emotions were quite astir as we neared camp, driving along increasingly familiar roads. Pulling into the driveway, I saw two of my dearest friends exiting the main lodge as we parked. From there, it was a blurred flurry of greetings, laughter, hugs, and such excitement that I could hardly talk straight. It was so good to be back.

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Some of my dear Romanian friends

For the next four days, we happily melded into the familiar routine. Meals together in an open, sunlit dining area, chores like a family with a whistle-while-we-worked gaity, sitting in on a leadership workshop during the morning hours (we had joined a week-long training gathering for all the counselors and staff who would be volunteering this summer at camp) and spending afternoon hours writing and working, and during our free times playing volleyball, going on walks, talking about life, and playing board games or singing any chance we got including late into the night. We got a couple opportunities to see the sites of Targoviște, including a monestary, a beautiful city park, and a castle. The bulk of our time was spent catching up with old friends and getting to know new ones. Particularly delightful was getting to introduce Theresa to my Romanian wonderfulness.

Onward

All too soon, this morning’s departure came. After meaningful goodbyes last night, Theresa and I rolled out of bed and got in a van at 4am this morning bound for directors Iulian and Roxana’s home once again before heading back to the airport.

We now look forward to meeting a new friend and fellow basketball ministry member in Madrid, where I’ll get to learn about another corner of European sport ministry. I look forward to learning in addition to experiencing another new city this coming week before embarking for a week of intensive basketball ministry in Kiev.

As you think of it, I would love your prayers for continued direction as God leads the way and my patience as He takes longer than I sometimes prefer to make those steps evident. I am not yet sure what the summer will look like. Pray too for Theresa as she heads back to the States and gets ready to lead a student team to Zambia in a couple weeks!

Until the next post,

-LS

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