I planned on ushering the New Year at the comfort of home with my family. That, however did not happen after I accepted to cover the overnight festival at Mandela National stadium, Namboole in Bweyogerere. The prayers were held on December 31 from 8am until the wee morning hours of January 1, 2017.
I arrived at the stadium at 6pm. Just like everybody else accessing the venue, I joined the queue for security checks before making my way to the gate. Businessmen and women were selling all kinds of items including food, drinks, cosmetics, and garments.
One particular man whistled towards my direction and later shouted beckoning me to go and buy his chappatis. I simply shook my head a gesture that I was not interested. I took a walk around the gigantic stadium. This is when I encountered some people exhibiting disturbing and shocking behaviour. The kind I felt should have been left out of the venue since it was purposely reserved for prayers that day.
Some couples engaged in public display of affection without considering the fact that there were children in the vicinity. What was more disturbing about this, was that teenagers, the high school going ones did not miss in action. The young couples took advantage of the dark corners to touch and kiss. Only God knows what those ones who lay on the grass did.
Such incidences worry many parents on such days. Their children deceive them that they are going to usher in the New Year in prayer only for them to go out and engage in fornication and drug abuse.
A haven for searching partners
Some singles used the festival as an opportunity to put their best pick up lines into use as they tried to get soul mates. “Sayizi yange! Muwala!” (My size! Young girl!) Some of the men shouted at the girls who were walking around.
At some point I wondered if there was alcohol sold at the venue as some people’s breath stunk heavily of alcohol. Someone would come your way interested in selling an item but when he opened his mouth to speak, the breath reeked of alcohol.
Then, there were those who made a nuisance of themselves by aimlessly spewing all kinds of nonsense when the drink took a toll on them.
Threats and fears
There were those who decided to use the opportunity to intimidate others. A youthful looking man I presumed to be in his 20s spread a ridiculous rumour that a bomb had been planted by terrorists in the stadium. Some people got scared and left while others stayed.
“That man is talking nonsense. The security is enough in this place,” stated one female worshipper who rubbished the claim.
Other than that, there were people who had security concerns because the stadium had filled to capacity.
There was no cause to worry though as the police did great work keeping law and order at the venue. I only felt that the different security team at the checkpoints was a little overwhelmed with the big numbers. The woman who checked me only peeped inside my bag before allowing me to proceed to the stadium.
This should be expected at any event that attracts a mammoth crowd. One woman’s phone was snatched during the night while receiving a call. She is not the only one as there are many other people like her who lost property during the prayer event.
By the end of the prayers, some parents and guardians had no clue where their children had gone. A five-year-old girl wandered off while playing with another girl. Both were later found crying while seated on the steps of one of stadium aisles.
Prayers are meant to prepare believers for the new Year, however, some of them engage in different things.
“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him” (Psalm 40:3).