Shocked and Slightly Embarrassed

Though we have finally reached spring, the emotional atmosphere in Van is trembling. The university just had it’s rector elections to decide the new academic president. My department head Hassan, who is as beloved as his mustache is thick, was in the running as an underdog. And, just like a Hollywood film, he finished last. It was a crushing blow not only for him but also for those under him, because he is held in high regard. This week, the first since the elections, he has been seen only sporadically. The only time I saw him, I was teaching my faculty course. The topic: retirement (they said, we are too young to think about this, and I said, let’s see you come up with a better topic. This is a paraphrase, but the gist is true to what happened). Hassan popped his head in and without saying hello, spoke to the students in Turkish and then disappeared. I was befuddled, and I asked the students what he said. “He said class on Wednesday was canceled.” Well, that’s his prerogative, I said. Hassan teaches my course on Wednesdays; if he wants to take a week off, fine by me. “No,” one student said. “He canceled Wednesday – forever.”

On top of this, the Turkish idea of spring cleaning is setting fire to the fields of waist-high weeds and drinking tea as the harsh smoke floats over them. There are scattered 800 square foot areas of charred black earth that no one but me seems to notice.

However, I have recently been given an upgrade at the medical faculty. Wednesday has recently become Pediatrician Day, and as that is the Dean’s specialty, we now meet in his fake-mahogany office where his semi-hot secretary brings us tea and platters of fruit. Platters with an ‘s’. I get my own.

The pediatrician’s level of English is lower than either my regular doctors or my faculty courses. We have a lot of trouble communicating simple ideas, and at least once a session someone asks how I like their city. But yesterday provided me with this exchange:

“Your bird (beard) is gone. But you have (traces a mustache on his face)…”
“A mustache. Muh-stash. I kept it because it is traditional. I always see older Turks with a mustache. Dr. Oz – why do you wear a mustache?”
(Dr. Oz thinks)…”It is my sexual accessory!”

Everyone laughed, but I choose to ignore this comment. I have never yet heard a Turk talk about sex, and there was a woman in the room, which I assumed meant that there was zero chance Oz said what I thought he said. But as I switched topics, he asked:

“My sexual ak-sess-or-ee, correct?”

The rest of class went off without a hitch.

When we finished, I shook hands with the doctors, took an orange for the road and high fived my chauffeur on our way out. And when I got back to my room and began to change clothes, I discovered this:

A six-inch rip in my jeans, running from my tailbone to what would be my butt-jaw, with respect to the cheeks. At my best guess, it had been there most of the day, and there was absolutely no way that my group of doctors couldn’t have seen it. So besides losing a treasured pair of jeans (my only other dark pant is my 8th grade Woodland Jr. High sweats), I have also lost a little bit of credibility with my doctors.

Who am I kidding? I taught the class in a thermal shirt my dad bought used in the early 1980’s. I have no credibility.

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Oh Glorious First Sunday of Spring

Today was Daylight Savings Time in Turkey, and so the sun set at 6:30 as opposed to 3:45, which was the record set during the winter solstice. What fun I had indoors by myself with only stuffed animals to talk to!

Today was also the day for the standardized university admissions test. Imagine the SAT if it was only given one day a year, and your whole family came to watch you take it. That’s what happened here on campus this morning. Half of the high school students in Van came to Yuzuncu Yil to take the test, and their mothers, fathers, siblings, fake uncles and go-to hair stylists all sat on the lawns of my campus and had picnics or slept until the test was over.

(Also concerning the test: Imagine the SAT if the results you received in the mail told you not only what school you were going to attend, but also what subject you’ll study. Welcome to Turkey.)

For the first time since the fall I hammocked. It was a cloudless day and Lake Van was calm, as there are no boats on it except the ferry and no one has seen the Van monster in over twenty years. So not only did I string up my hammock and read, but I wore sandals while I did it. Amazed Turks tripped over one another as they tried to steal subtle glances at my space blanket and footwear from the future.

View from the hammock. Awesome sidewalk.

Whilst hammocking I finished A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Since I recently spent all my money on Kindle fantasy novels, I’ve had to resort to downloading and reading only free public domain books on my e-reader (or what the Turks around me on the bus call, “The Evil Mirror”). The version of the Mark Twain book I read before was released under the line of Great Illustrated Classics, which translated these old, old stories into a format that children can easily understand, with pictures on every other page. I was only 17 at the time, and I’m a visual learner. However, I was surprised to find that GIC pulled no punches, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the main character with the ridiculous bowl cut the pencil illustrator had given him.

(Plus, I was stoked to find that not only is A Connecticut Yankee one of the first science fiction novels – TIME TRAVEL! – the story holds up pretty well, and the protagonist, though admittedly a Yankee, is surly in a very likable way.)

Finishing the book made me feel like I had actually accomplished something, because I had been living off my knowledge of the abridged version of the abridged version for quite some time. But it was more of a personal accomplishment. In A Connecticut Yankee, the main character Hank founds a school for re-educating sixth century peasants with nineteenth century ideals. He calls it a “Man Factory.” I used to use this anecdote for fraternity recruitment. I would tell the story of the novel and then go on to describe how the fraternity itself was a Man Factory. It was a good routine, and not only did it work but I believed it. However, it came not from my memory of the novel but from my memory of a single illustrated panel featuring Hank, squatting next to a peasant, writing a note on a piece of bark. The picture was captioned, “Put him in the man factory.” So I based my whole rush strategy on a children’s picture book.

But at a deeper level I was surprised at the amount of ideology Twain packed into a time travel story. Every other page was about either the equality of man or the ability to indoctrinate him. I guess I missed that my first time through the children’s version. And – living in Turkey, stared at by hundreds of people as I walk down the street, unable to adequately explain a few ideas I find extremely simple, creepily shadowed by 18 year old girls who work at my guest house – I empathize with the main character. Sometimes I feel like Hank Morgan, a nineteenth century industrialist trapped in sixth century England. Sometimes I feel like a war correspondent, drinking tea in my white linen suit while I wait for the latest from Washington. And sometimes I feel like a ninja, practicing fake martial arts in my room at six in the evening because I’ve already had dinner and I want to see if I can do what I saw Sydney Bristow do on Alias.

You Get What You Pay For

Last weekend was the official last weekend of winter. As such, I had to move quickly if I wanted to get any skiing done in Turkey, as well as save big on name brands. So I met a few Fulbrighters in Erzurum, THE place to ski in eastern Turkey. And I decreed it a man weekend. No girls allowed. Or wanted to come.

I've been waiting for an excuse to use this.

I arrived in Erzurum at 5:30 a.m. after a night bus where I listened to Human Clay all the way through twice before I realized that I was whispering the lyrics while the man next to me slept. When my target apartment door opened, one of the Fulbrighters, still in bed, asked if it was time to go skiing. I told him to give me thirty minutes. Which somehow became three hours.

Erzurum was host to the University Winter Olympics this past February, and as such the skiing facilities were overhauled. A new resort, Kanakale (honestly I just made that name up – I can’t really remember it) was built, and we decided to spend our first day there. We arrived by taxi at Kanakale at nine in the morning, and there was no one there. The doors were locked, the ski lifts were stagnant, and all the office furniture in the foyer had been removed. It was like those haunted theme parks Scooby Doo used to visit that look perfectly sound and empty. Except this time, the proprietor got away with it, despite those meddling kids.

So we spent the next two days at Palandoken, the main resort, on a mountain which I just learned has a name that translates to, no lie, “Great Dragon.” The stars aligned. Then they crashed big time on frozen powder and their back hurt the whole bus ride back to Van.

Since it was the end of the season and the snow wasn’t ideal (but also because this is Turkey), the mountain was empty. We never waited in line at a ski lift. In fact, there were some lifts tucked away in the surely-I-have-gone-off-trail-this-time wilderness that didn’t have operators. They were just swinging full speed, and you had to jump on it or freeze to death in a place where Ski Patrol can’t find you, because Ski Patrol hasn’t been invented in Turkey yet. However, I’ve never skiied in a place that was so empty, and it was a special feeling to be alone with such big mountains looking over my shoulder. If you’re into that kind of stuff, which I’M NOT.

The summit of the Great Dragon (I cannot believe I didn’t know it was called that when I was there), in addition to being deserted (no lift operators; a tea house with it’s windows boarded shut) is also quite beautiful. In one direction you can see the town of Erzurum and the resort, and the other direction looks like sand dunes of snow. There’s absolutely no signs of life looking out on the backside – no huts, no roads, not even telephone poles. And to my hyper developed sense of I’m-about-to-fall-off-this-great-height, it was terrifying.

Google Images said this was from Palandoken.

Alas, all good things come to a point where you realize it’s not that good. The lift tickets and ski rentals cost 45 lira, which is about 30 dollars (made that up, too). Super cheap for skiing. However, on the second day I found out why. After two enormous wipe outs that destroyed the four lunches I was carrying in my backpack as well as my sense of adventure, I was skiing in a flat area when suddenly I felt like I was on one ski. I looked down, and sure enough I was slaloming. The other ski had popped off twenty yards ago. As I was already going at a face pace, I decided it would be a great idea to crash again. After one of my friends brought me my ski, we realized that the boot didn’t fit the ski. The guy we had rented from didn’t bother to fit the boot. Suddenly, I felt less bad about falling one hundred yards down the frontside of the Great Dragon. However, my nerves were shot and I had already wet my pants, so I called it a day.

Top Three Things That Happened Today

3) My regular faculty conversation class is supposed to last two hours, but in reality we go from 3 to 3:45, then break for tea, and finish with 4 to 4:45. During our mid-class tea break today, my students finally realized that I not only shaved my beard, but left a mustache in honor of all the old men that never wait for me to finish my sentences. I tried not to be offended that they were apparently staring straight through me during the first forty-five minutes of class, and instead concentrated on the compliments, which started with, “You should play the American in a Turkish movie,” and ended when Ismael, the perpetually late forty year old who has a sleep talking eight year old’s grasp on English, entered the tea room and shouted, “It’s the most beautiful boy in the world!” I was taken aback because, as it happens, this is word for word what my mom used to say when I came home from college.

2) During the actual classroom time we were discussing the police in Turkey. The conversation turned, as it always does, to the differences in men and women. After explaining maternity leave for the twelfth time (thirteen time’s a charm…or whatever the opposite of a charm is), one student, Murat, raised his hand. Murat is a student for whom I have given up hope, with respect to his grammar. It’s like he’s playing Mad Libs with the placement of the Mad Libs blanks. But he wanted to respond to the idea of women in the police force, so he said this:

“Women good are at airports, with the checking and the baggage and the freedom. Specially gloves women, feeling the shirt [makes a motion as if he is patting down a suspect], is nice very nice. Women good at touching.”

Luckily, I was saved from laughing in his face by the rest of the class, who laughed instead.

1) My medical faculty meets right after lunch in the fourth floor tea room of the hospital. In this class, we never bother leaving the tea room. Today it was a little bit darker because it was raining. I was sitting in the overstuffed chair I always sit in (the students asked me what word to use to differentiate between it and a plastic desk chair. I told them to call it my throne. And they do) and we were talking about the pros and cons of reading the Qu’ran in Arabic.

And I fell asleep in class.

I used to do this all the time as a student at the University of Arkansas, but I’ve never done it as a teacher before today. It felt the same, though. My head started to nod forward slowly as I fought to keep my eyes open. Eventually, it fell completely forward and I snapped awake, wide eyed and looking from face to face to see if my students noticed. If they did, they didn’t show it. Unfortunately, I was completely lost as to what we were talking about. I hadn’t corrected any of the English that had been going on in the last ten minutes. So to cover it up, I jumped out of my seat and said, “Who’s up for a second round of tea?”

Professor of Misinformation

Van is famous for its breakfast. The cream and the honey and the whatever the brown stuff is. It’s all good, even if I don’t know the names. However, the free breakfast in the guest house where I live is not very good. The olives are shriveled like they’re deflating in outer space and the cucumber slices have a specific taste. I thought cucumbers were supposed to taste like water?

I usually eat only the bread, the pre-packaged honey and the egg, however they’ve chosen to prepare it on that specific day. Sometimes I eat the cheese, but those slices are really hit or miss, depending on the day. So this morning when one of the students who works in the kitchen brought me my plate, I got really excited because there was a new item involved in my feast. It was a piece of cheese, next to the other two types of cheeses that I sampled and rejected. The cheese looked like half a Kraft single, with the same thickness and color. I picked it up and felt my fingers slide over its wet surface. “Hmm,” I said. “Sticky cheese.” And then I put the whole piece into my mouth. And it turned out to be butter.

I tell you this only to illustrate how little knowledge I have of the real world, and I’ve found in my six months in Turkey that in addition to teaching English, I am expected to instruct my students on how life works outside of Turkey. Not only that, but I am expected to be knowledgeable in almost every single facet and angle both east of Turkey and west of Turkey. And I can’t tell cheese from butter.

These things usually come up in conversation. Students will talk about the way something is in Turkey, then ask me about the way it is either in the States or whatever country comes to mind. Or, if I’m not careful, I’ll mention something I don’t really understand and they’ll call me on it; since I’m the teacher, I’ll have to bluff my way through it. In my medical faculty conversation class, I have had to explain the causes of the civil war, how wormholes work, the history of the U.S. space program, the history of Native Americans, theological differences between Catholics and Greek Orthodox, and why Hindus worship cows. Again – I never back down from these; usually I have read a Wikipedia article relating to the subject, or saw a movie where one of the actors in real life is Greek Orthodox. Sometimes, after two or three failed attempts, I will admit that I don’t fully know, and will promise to look it up on the internet (I don’t, and they usually forget they asked). But most of the time I fake my way through it. And I can’t really explain why, outside of trying to construct a myth for them that I am a genius.

Take today: I explained how time zones work, gave an overall history of voodoo, and explained the Greek roots of a few common English words. If nothing else, this should give you an idea of how my students’ minds work. I never change the subject – I always try to stay on one subject as long as the students will let me. They make the jumps from topic to polar opposite topic.

At the end of class, the conversation turned to diets, and I was asked a) if I dieted, and b) what were good diets. I told them I didn’t need to diet because I burned all my fat when I practiced magic alone in my room, and then I went on to explain how I imagine the Atkins diet works. Finally, I summed it all up by telling them that I was once told to stay away from anything white. I started a list: “Ranch dressing, sour cream, cream cheese -”

“Heroin?” one of the younger psychiatrists asked.

After a pause, I said, “Yes. Stay away from heroin. It will make you fat.”

Velcro Supernova? You Just Named My Band.

Last week’s foray (synonyms also considered: sortie, sally, sashay) into Georgia left me with a desire to visit Turkey’s neighboring countries as well as 150 Georgian lari, which apparently no one in Turkey thinks is real money. Look who’s talking, Turkey. If your bills were flavored I could taste the rainbow. And if the bills were edible.

Just forget that last paragraph. I went to Bulgaria this weekend with some Fulbright friends, and no, Bulgaria doesn’t recognize Georgian currency either, so I’m stuck with these holographic IOU’s that look like Monopoly from the future. However, Bulgaria was a step up in every other way, including their currency’s legitimacy.

Our destination was a city called Veliko Tarnovo, and the only reason I know how
to spell it is because I looked it up on Wikipedia (this is how I also discovered the resident’s skewed sense of scale: the manager of our hostel claimed the city was “HUGE!” – relative to the Vatican, I guess. 67,000 people). During the time I spent there, it was known as Velcro Supernova, city of the Tsars.

We took a bus from Istanbul and found the border crossing much more civilized than Georgia, where we stood in line in a tin walled cattle shoot until enough border guards passed my passport around and decided that, despite the beard, shoulder length hair, and sand dollar glasses I was the same scared little boy who took that passport photo in Collier’s Drug Store on Dickson St, in Fayetteville, AR.

It was the plan to change buses in Bourgas, a coastal city, but Bulgaria said, “To hell with that plan! I’ve got a much better one,” and the bus drove off without us. Faced with a six hour wait for what would turn out to be a non-existent train (there was a strike), we asked a cab driver how long it would take to reach Velcro. Three hours? With six people in a 1980’s Civic? Tell me where to sign in blood.

One thing about Bulgaria – they know their music. Specifically, the best of the 80’s, 90’s, and today when filtered through the family genre. As Lucian tried to curl into a tighter ball on the floor of the cab, holding back tears and motion sickness, the rest of us were singing what we only knew as the song from the end of the Big Green. Except for our driver, Nikolai. He did not sing.

Velcro is in a big forest, surrounded by hills that people used to build castles on; one of the castles remains today, and stormed it for the student price of two lev a piece. It’s a university town, and therefore had a disco with a really bad DJ. If he was a scientist, he would probably try to cross bred a mariachi with a the ring of a rotary telephone and a hammerhead shark. I don’t think I can make myself any clearer. Nevertheless, it did not keep us from dancing, though I wish I could’ve gotten tips from the people who stared at me. I would’ve made bank.

We stayed in the Hostel Mostel, which I’m sure was named with great consideration and not like a rich woman names the small dog that hates her. But despite the name, this hostel was probably the best I’ve ever stayed in. The two men who ran it personally cooked and fed us each night, even the one we didn’t pay for. Plus we stayed in a sixteen person room where I called top bunk – and got it. That’s how much my friends respect me.

We owned this town. Ocean's 11 style.

In the end, I think I would go again just to see the trees (there aren’t many in Turkey – my friends say it’s the climate) and the food. I tried to explain to my students that the food in Bulgaria was prepared in a more American style, and I liked it because it reminded me of home, but the truth is it was much better. By twenty rungs on a fifteen rung ladder. In fact, we went to the same restaurant three times this past weekend, because there were always new things. The best dish I ordered was labeled “wolf morsels of pork supplied with garlic potatoes.” In Bulgaria they refer to portions in terms of the size of the predator it would feed.

The Medical Scuttlebutt

Last week I found out that the class I teach at the medical faculty is not a real class at all, but an under-the-table type deal between two university departments. As it was explained to me by my boss Hasan, “The medical faculty gave us leather couches and a flat screen television. So we agreed to send you to them.” When he tells me this, I am sitting on a new leather couch. I miss his old chairs which were all captain’s chairs with nice padded arm rests. The new leather couches are overstuffed.

Furthermore, he added: “It is not a real class. If one day you do not want to go, you should not go.”

Wow. It feels great to be needed.

But I like the medical faculty because, overall, they speak better English than my other faculty students. Doctors in Turkey need to know English, and they spend more time networking with non-Turks in their profession. So I continue to go everyday, mostly because it has become something that is not like a class at all. I haven’t created a lesson plan for it in four months. I go in, sit down, and talk about whatever the students are talking about when I entered. One day they traded stories about the relatives of patients who tried to harm them (apparently a common occurrence), while I said things like, “Shot, not shoot.”

Yesterday we were talking about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, (“Like Monk,” was the only thing I could add to the conversation) and we started to digress to things like kleptomania and megalomania. Then one of my psychiatrists said, “I think this is what is wrong with Charlie Sheen.”

What? The guy from Major League and Red Dawn? What could he possibly have done that these Turks would know about?

“Maybe you mean Gary Busey,” I said.

“No, Charlie Sheen. I saw it on the news.”

“You saw what?” I asked.

Then little Buyamin, who is five foot nothing and hardly ever says a word of Turkish or English, jumped in and said, “He said…he was…from Mars.”

When I got home, I Googled Charlie Sheen, and the third hit that came up was titled, “14 Charlie Sheen Quotes Presented by Baby Sloths.” I thought, this is how I usually prefer my news. And as it turns out, Buyamin was right.

I think it’s a testament to how disconnected from the world I’ve become out here in southeastern Turkey that my adult students are updating me on celebrity gossip.

Midnight Train to PORK PRODUCTS is More Like It

This past weekend I traveled with a group of Fulbrighters to Georgia, which is the northeastern neighbor to Turkey. We had a chance to see the capital Tbilisi, the most famous city, but we settled with the port of Batumi because it’s a half hour away from the border and I’m getting increasingly lazy when it comes to experiencing culture. Case in point: I’m starting to challenge old men to internet backgammon. But I do that because they don’t know how to work the buttons and it’s the only way I can beat them.

Statue of Medea; one of Georgia's early exports were Golden Fleeces

Georgia is two hours ahead of Turkey, because Turkey refuses to divide the country with something as volatile as time zones, and despite what I was taught, it used to be a Soviet republic. I can’t really blame Sherman for burning it – okay, that’s my only reference, though it wasn’t even that good. However, I do wonder if my mom counts the country as below the Mason-Dixon line. She’s told me on multiple occasions that I’m not allowed to marry anyone born north of it, although Missouri is still under her consideration.

We went to Georgia mostly to enjoy the things we can’t get in Turkey. Pork. Casinos. Beer. The Georgian alphabet. We didn’t realize that they neither spoke Turkish nor English in Batumi. One person in our group of ten, as it turned out, just happened to be fluent in Russian; he handled every single transaction, including food, hotel rooms, and the taxis, though one surly taxi driver went back on his word and demanded 5 lari instead of the agreed 4 (roughly 58 cents – needless to say, we were furious).

(We probably could’ve handled ourselves without the language until it came to dinner. One of the few Turkish words I can recognize is “lokanta,” or restaurant. But on the streets of Batumi we were constantly asking each other, “What’s the hieroglyph for dinner?”)

We kept cheap rooms in a hotel called “Bronze Knuckle/Vampire Heart/B/Alien Spaceship,” when each letter is pronounced phonetically. In my room there was a double bed separated by a curtain from a sitting room with two fold-out couches. The first night we were there, our party was split between those wanted to sleep after midnight and those who wanted to donate their newly exchanged Monopoly money to Red 23 at the roulette table. After a few solid hours of sleep, sharing a double with another guy (remember that a double bed is the smallest bed unit that is certified for two people), we were joined by another Fulbrighter, crawling on his hands and knees to lie between us. He then stole my wool blanket and put his hand on my stomach. But it was his birthday, so I had to let it go until the sun was up.

However, during the second night I had more trouble sleeping. I had been in bed for two hours when I woke up slowly to loud conversation. It was four-thirty in the morning, and although my room was dark, the curtain that separated it was lit up from the other side, and there was music. I sat up and opened the curtain two other Fulbrighters who weren’t terribly sober free-style rapping to an instrumental track on an iPod. They didn’t immediately notice them, so I listened for a second, and, to their credit, they were pretty competent rappers despite the fact that they couldn’t hold their heads up straight.

“Fat rhymes, guys,” I said, “but can we go to bed now?”

They immediately switched to whispers and said yes. So I laid back down in my bed, and they continued to speak in what I’m sure they thought was a whisper. It started, “My man Cass wants to go to bed/So we’ll do what he said/Otherwise we’ll end up dead/Hand me a beer I’m thirsty.”

Dungeons and Dragons and Grenades

“Tron stands alone in a field. Behind him is a slain dragon, and in front of him are
three very alive, very angry others. Tron does not flinch. With his rapier over his shoulder and two bandoliers of grenades across his chest, he stares them down. Cass, you have initiative.”

Thus began the Dungeons and Dragons game that six of us Fulbrighters played on Saturday, after our mid-year evaluation with the Embassy and program heads. When our Dungeon Master (DM) spoke these words, I was overcome with both a sense of how awesome this game was and how awesome I am. However, both illusions were shattered when it turned out that this opening was a dream sequence. Our DM knows how to crush spirits.

If you don’t know D&D, it isn’t satanic – Mom. It’s just a few guys having a good time wishing that they were anything but the loser I am. That came out wrong. It’s a pen and paper role playing game, where the DM casts a scenario and the players have to react to it (badly, in most cases).

My character’s name was Tron, but since he was French it was pronounced “Trau”. I spoke in an accent, and tried to make it consistently French, but it kept bouncing from French to my hog farmer uncle John to Arnold Schwarzenegger (though I had an easier time than Matt, who was playing a bard and kept trying to rhyme everything he said for the first half hour of the game). Tron was a musketeer unjustly jailed by the ruling Elvish class and replaced at home like a reverse Sommersby. As an afterthought, I made him incredibly racist against elves (you would be too, if you languished in their prisons for fourteen years). This ended up affecting the game a lot more than I had intended.

When we got out of the dream sequence and into the reality of the game (yes, irony is my specialty), the first three things my character did in combat was a) throw his rapier into some trash bags, b) vomit on an opponent’s shoe, and c) head butt a wall. The game turned out to be more difficult and I turned out to be less invincible than I previously thought.

The six of us had been talking about playing for quite some time, and because of this, we each came into the game with a well thought out character. The best was Ugga, a half human, half troll nine year old who swung a pine branch with the strength of ten Trons (since it’s a pen and paper numbers game, I know this is mathematically true). As Ed, Ugga’s creator, described his character’s religion, Cassian, I began to recognize elements, like a devotion to fish sandwiches and dragons, and the belief that it’s prophet, Cass, will come again in the guise of a dragon. My character converted three fourths of the way through the game.

We played for seven hours, and most of that time we spent impatiently waiting for the DM to spring a trap – for ninjas or even stray cats to attack, so we could finally fight. I was luckier than the others in that since my character was racist, I was forced to attack any elves I saw, whether it helped the party’s situation or not. However, when an attack came, most of the time I was too excited to do something logical, so I would react in a manner that doesn’t even make sense in my dreamworlds (I have many). For instance, at the beginning of our first major fight, I tried to shove a grenade into an opponent’s mouth. Instead, the live grenade fell at my party’s feet, and everyone had to spend the next turn scrambling behind tables, waiting for it to go off. Since I had the highest dexterity (a mathematical characteristic), I always went first and more often than not ruined scenarios by doing something similar to this.

Sadly, the game ended just before midnight because a) all the Fulbrighters not playing wanted to go out, b) Matt got tired of speaking in meter, and c) I used up the last of my grenades. It had been ending gradually for a half hour when Ugga, the adolescent half troll, got in a friendly-fire fight with our illusionist during a face off with the boss. It escalated until the illusionist, who could only conjure things less than three feet tall, created several floating crossbows that danced about the room in a random fashion. When his roll to complete the task was successful, we all turned to the DM and asked, “What happens next?” All through the game, the DM dictated what our opponents did, based on our actions, and he had been pretty good about handling our (my) more stupid moves. To this, he looked at us in disbelief and said, “I have no idea.” And so we declared ourselves victorious and went out for drinks.