Three years without Sophia

Three years ago Sophia disappeared and the ongoing nightmare started.
Three years of devastating insecurity, a daily confrontation with a forest of question marks, a sea of puzzles.

It is, for example, unclear what exactly happened between Sophia’s arrival at the very low budget location and her disappearance. Who were present there that evening, who came and who left?
We don’t know.
What is clear is that the investigation that took place, especially in those crucial first few days, left quite something to be desired.
One can wonder how useful it is to rope off a so called ‘scene of crime’ after three days, when many people have been walking around there, many times. The same goes for dogs, who also came that same day.
And those are only a few questions of the very many there are.

The morning after Sophia’s disappearance a plastic bottle was found that allegedly was hers.
A day later various items were found, spread out along the river bank, very near that same spot. Why a day later? It poses the question if those items were actually there that previous day.
When were they put there? And by whom?
Almost immediately a story developed that Sophia must have been attacked by an animal, or wound up in the river. An attack by an animal seems very unlikely as no evidence to support this has ever been found. The river could play a role but we don’t even know if Sophia really went there.

It is, and it remains, completely unreal not knowing what happened to Sophia, where she is, if she’s alive. We have been without our girl for three years now but we do not know if it is definitive.
There are people who suggest we ‘let it rest’. People who ask if we, Sophia’s parents, will spend the rest of our lives searching for our daughter. We are astounded by those comments. Are these people actually aware of what they’re saying?
We have no idea what the rest of our lives will look like. We do not know if we will ever get answers to all those questions. Just as we do not know when the moment has come that we are out of options and there are no more roads to take.
We have been condemned to living with a huge and very heavy insecurity.
Gratefully, there are few people who say such uncalled for things.
Many more support us, in whichever way they can. People who understand that you cannot give up on your child, who agree with us that this is a very strange story and that there are still options open which have to be explored.
Which is what we do.
It isn’t easy. It’s a continuous struggle between hope and despair, strength versus exhaustion, determination versus doubt and courage versus fear.
The winner is not always clear.

Of course the other life, the parallel life we also have, continues ‘as usual’.
Sophia’s brothers have both started their new year at university and have already had their first exams.
Sophia’s very best friend went to Tanzania for three months to work in a hospital. She has now finished Medical School and will start work as a doctor.
In this parallel life Sophia is present too.
The dinners for family birthdays, the empty chair, the silence where her voice should be heard.
The sheet music on the piano, the keys waiting for the practised hand.
Her old bike in front of the house, the tires still full of air, ready to go.

Sophia is a strong personality who can have a dominant presence but never was her presence felt so strongly as now, in her incomprehensible absence.
The pain of missing her is immense.

For us Sophia is there, the same for her many close friends. They speak about her a lot and they too believe in a miracle. Those are rare, as everyone knows, but sometimes they happen.
A friend described the shock she feels when she rides her bike through the city and in a flash sees someone who looks like Sophia. But it’s not her. Another friend has the feeling that, every day, she could get a phone call, to let her know Sophia is back.
We know exactly what they mean.

Every trip to Uganda produces new contacts. Also information that, for now, validates the paradox ‘the more you know, the less you know’.
It is like traveling in an entirely unknown land: you never know where a road may take you. Perhaps to a spot from where you can continue, but a road can also lead you to nowhere. We will keep taking them all, strengthened by the support of many people, known and unknown to us, supporting us in whichever way.
We are, and will be, most grateful to all of them. And we keep hoping that we will find a way that will lead us to Sophia.

When nothing is sure, everything is possible.

Marije Slijkerman
Gerard, Max en Jan Koetsier