Greetings from Turkey!! My name is Frank (which I'd hope you already figured out) and God has brought me to Izmir, Turkey to use my role as an American Football player/coach to reach Turks with the Good News of Christ. I'm a bit late getting into the whole blogging game, but I'm excited to get going with it and to share a little bit about what God is doing in my life!
For my first blog, I just want to share a few brief impressions of my new home, Izmir, to hopefully put subsequent posts in a better context. Izmir is located around a bay of the Aegean Sea (which is part of the Mediterranean) and pretty much completely surrounded by mountains. My two favorite places to be are by the ocean or in the mountains, so I am getting my cake AND eating it too. There are no beaches in the city itself, but most of the way around the bay is a strip of park and a wide cement path great for walking or rollerblading on. The city itself is pretty large, about 4 million people, and although the majority of the city is 4-6 story apartment buildings, it doesn't too feel too big or crowded. It is a nice city, modern, developed, fairly wealthy, and westernized with a great and easy to use transportation system.
Izmir is an interesting blend of cultures. Overall, Izmir is pretty secular, especially in daily lifestyle, although most Turks will still say they are a Muslim. I would say it is more European than anything, and the people consider themselves to be European. But influences from America, Russia, and the Middle East are all very evident. A young man updating his Facebook status on his iPhone wearing Nike's with a "Thug Life" tattoo will walk next to a friend wearing a leather coat and looking straight out a movie set in Russia. They'll pass a young Turkish woman wearing a head covering on her way to one of the many mosques throughout the city as the call to prayer begins to blare in Arabic from the mosque's tower. All of them will likely be smoking, as young and old, male and female all light their cigarettes up like I've only seen in 1950's Hollywood movies.
With exception to their lungs, Turkish people seem to really value cleanliness. One does not enter a home here with shoes on, but instead is given slippers upon entering. I've had to put plastic coverings over my shoes before entering a couple businesses, and many Turkish women clean their floors daily. This mentality carries over to the streets and other public places, and keeps the city clean.
The people of Izmir are incredibly friendly. This past summer I'd heard that Turkey was one of the most friendly countries in the entire world, and two months in it is living up to its reputation. Everywhere I've gone people have made me feel extremely welcome, have been helpful, and super gracious with my inability to speak much Turkish. One of my favorite things so far is the Chai (or tea) culture. At a restaurant, tea is offered after every meal, free of charge, and people will often invite friends (or even strangers) that they bump into on the street to come into their home for chai, or if not close to home, to a chai parlour. When this happens, life stops as people sit down together to enter into friendship over a warm glass of spicy chai. Love it.
The people's friendliness even extends down to the animals. There are no pounds in Izmir, but that doesn't mean that dying, smelly dogs are running around everywhere. Rather, stray dogs and cats all look healthy, are calm and friendly, and even look clean. Many of these strays are "adopted" by a family or even a street who leave out food for them, and the animal then makes his or her home wherever the shade is on that street.
Overall Izmir is a beautiful city, and I love it here so far. Despite there being few blondes here, I don't draw much attention wherever I go, and it's nice not sticking out like a sore thumb as I did in Colombia (where I spent the last year). It really is a great place to live! That being said, if one pays close attention, brokenness and emptiness is pretty evident all around. There seems to really be a discontentment rising, especially among the young people, and that gives me hope that the Holy Spirit is ready to rush into this city and claim it for Christ. The fact that I may be a part of that is incredibly exciting, and I'm thrilled to be here.