What has Uganda, Vietnam, East Germany, Cambodia, and Ireland have in common?
It was a Sunday morning like any other. I had arranged to go out for bike ride out with Andreas, a guy living and working here in Cambodia. We had met a month before hand, when he joined us on our epic three day trip across Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains.
When there’s two of you out for six hours in the saddle, conversation takes inevitable twists and turns. We talked about work, about other mountain biking trips. We talked about where we were headed that day on our trip and if we would get lost.
Just like me, Andreas has lived and worked in many places. He talked of Haiti and the earthquake emergency response. He talked of East Germany, his homeland before the fall of the wall. He then spoke of Uganda and his brief working spell there.
Most of my working life was spent in Kenya, the African country to the east of Uganda. But I had colleagues working in Uganda and had spent some weekends there.
All of a sudden, Andreas starts talking about his trip to North Uganda, to a place named Kotido in Karamoja district. I nearly fall off my bike. I too had been there.
In fact, I had gone there to visit a good friend of mine, an Irish missionary priest. I had stayed with Declan in his parish, visited the semi-nomadic Karamojong people who he worked with, a wild bunch of cattle herders notorious for their regular cattle rustling expeditions to neighbouring tribes. We had shared a few cold beers in the evenings. Later, we became the godfather and godmother our dear Dutch friend’s child, Sara.
“Was a terrible trip”, Andreas went on. “We were there when that Irish missionary was shot dead. We had a beer with him the night before he died”.
That Irish missionary was Declan. In March 2002, Declan was shot dead at point blank range as he returned home. His two companions from the mission, Patrick Longoli and Fedelis Longole, were also murdered.
So there was I, cycling along a road in Cambodia, with an East German I barely knew, finding out he had spent an evening in Uganda with my friend, Declan hours before he died.
This was not the first time I had randomly met someone with a close connection to Declan’s death. Two years ago, I was having dinner in Hanoi, Vietnam when I met a guy working for the Irish Embassy. Through some twists and turns in conversation, I found out that he had been working in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, at the time of Declan’s death. Soon he divulged that he had made the arrangements to transport Declan’s body home to Ireland.
Nearly 10 years after Declan was shot, the paths of those who were with him still seem to meet.