It looks like the hibernation period is over. Every living thing is coming out to welcome the sun from wherever she has been. We are slowly walking away from the days of greyness and freezing temperatures. Welcome Spring! Welcome March!
Some weeks ago, a fellow from Spain and I headed downtown Stuttgart to see the Fastnacht or carnival that I had been informed is a part of ancient tradition that takes place towards the end of February to »chase away« the winter blues. I first heard about the carnival from my colleagues at Junges Ensemble Stuttgart (JES). Some of them showed me the costumes they were going to wear on the day of the carnival. Having been so done with the winter and the absence of the sun, I too was ready to witness this winter chasing activity.
Most of the marchers were dressed up as scary monsters, and the fun part was how they would wave to the children or try to carry them. I was told that not only are the scary costumes meant to chase the winter blues away, they are also supposed to instill fear into young children. Well, some costumes I saw can instill fear into adults as well. Most of the children were not in the least impressed by the monstrous looking costumes. Some kids were crying others were however excited about all the candy that was being thrown at them. If the winter is something to scare away, I didn’t think it stood a chance, not with some of the scary looking things I saw at the carnival! A week after that, the clouds, and greyness gave way to life reviving showers. For several days now, the sun has been shining on a daily basis. The winter is finally bowing out.
A couple of days ago, I heard an unfamiliar sound one early morning. Something I had not heard since I got here. I got out of bed, the sun had not yet risen, and I stood by my window, and listened. A little bird was sitting outside my window and chirping away, I think informing me that the hibernation period was over. This bird has now made it a routine to wake me up every morning. Looks like we are forming some kind of bond.
In the city of Stuttgart, there are more people on the streets now. However, Stuttgart’s calmness, and sense of orderliness seem unchanged. The city remains very quiet, as if it’s important to hold itself together, and not be excessive in any way. When people are talking to one another, they keep it low. I tend to laugh out really LOUD, but here I find myself catching my own laughter before it goes into uncontrollable explodes. The other day, I sat in the square and watched people walk by, shop, and talk to one another. The experience was incredible. It is rare to watch a big city that is not in a hurry. It is equally amazing to watch a city where most people are actually interacting with one another, and not with their smartphones. There was a sense of peace that whole experience gave me. When I had just come, I noticed how different Stuttgart mobile phone culture seemed from the other places where I have lived. For example, at JES, whenever there are performances, I sit in the foyer before or after the performances, and watch young people who turn up to see shows. I observe their behavior and how they interact with one another. What has been outstanding for me is how they seem so free of their smartphones. I am not sure whether they are not allowed to move with their mobile phones by their parents or the schools where they study or whether they actually find human interaction more interesting than social media or video games. At JES, I have seen very, very few young people on their phones. One reversal culture shock I experienced when I moved back to Kampala over a year ago was how almost everyone seemed so detached from life outside of his or her smartphone. I remember being at some restaurant and a group of girls in their late teens or early 20s walked in and took a table next to mine. My assumption was that they were there to enjoy a drink and chat with one another, however, no sooner had they sat down than each one of them got out their earphones, and each plugged in one ear. As if on cue, they all started doing things with their smartphones, and once in a while, one of them would look up at her friends, and exclaim; »I know, right!« and they would all burst out laughing, with their eyes still glued on their phones. With Kampala’s crazy traffic, and bad driving, I have seen people text while driving or crossing the street. I wonder if the desire for people to want to be completely engrossed in their smartphones has anything to do with the congestion that characterizes most big cities, and therefore, people try to carve out some space for themselves by shutting out the rest of the world. Would that explain why most New Yorkers wear earphones and play games on the subway and restaurants, completely cutting off the ambiance and the surrounding environment? Or does it really depend on how different cultures have responded to mobile/smartphones use?
About a week ago, on my way back to Solitude from the city, an old man was trying to get on the bus, and his walking stick slipped as he was stepping inside the bus. He fell at the entrance. I was seated at the very back but could see what was going on. The man was probably in his 70s. He struggled to get up as we all watched. It took about 15-20 seconds before some people (including the driver) got up to help him. I have to say; that quite surprised me, and I am still wondering why it took sometime for someone to offer a helping hand to the old man. Maybe, I will understand it with time.
In my first paragraph I mentioned that March is one of my favorite months. One of the reasons why I like the month of March is that in some parts of the northern hemisphere that is the month when things spring back to life. The second reason is that, this is the month I also sprang into existence. March 17th.