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The Beginning Of My Ascendance - My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria
April 22nd, 2007
10:59 am

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My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria

(*The blog is no longer being updated regularly due to the civil war in Syria. Should the situation change or any breakthroughs be achieved, I will post it here*)

Nicole

Summary        

My sister, Jacqueline "Nicole" Vienneau, a Canadian tourist, disappeared in Syria on Saturday, March 31st, 2007 at the age of 32. She was in her fifth month of a six-month solo adventure through West Africa and the Middle East. She was last seen by the desk clerk at 8:30 in the morning as she left the Cairo Hotel in Hama, two hours north of Damascus.

Nicole

She definitely intended to return to the hotel as her backpack was left in her room along with the memory cards from her camera, full of photos. She also left her journals that include an entry made the night before she disappeared. Canadian police retrieved her Hotmail account email records indicating she attempted to login around 8:30 Friday night but was unable to (Syrian Internet connections are not reliable). Her last completed emails were sent Thursday night.

Nicole's guidebook was also left in her room. In the back of her Lonely Planet "Middle East" guidebook she wrote directions to a number of places in Syria that we believe she copied from the Cairo Hotel's copy of the Lonely Planet "Syria" guidebook. Nicole spoke with some guests about these locations earlier in the week and the hotel clerk indicated that on the morning she disappeared, she asked for directions to the "Beehive Houses", a local sightseeing destination, as well as Qasr Ibn Wardan (a nearby castle).

Nicole

No one at these locations recalls seeing Nicole (and they are not heavily visited) and the Qasr Ibn Wardan logbook has a record of only one visitor, Amin Ben Yahia, a person of interest to us (b. 1984, Algerian/Swiss nationality, father is Abbas, mother is Monica) in hopes that he remembers something unusual about that day.

Nicole preferred taking local transit, but none of the minibus drivers or locals remembers seeing her. As a foreigner, Nicole stood out in all of Syria, but particularly in Hama where the majority of women in Hama dress in robes and cover their hair. The streets from the hotel to the minibus pick-up are main streets with lots of people, even at 8:30 in the morning.

Nicole

In May 2007, I flew to Syria with Nicole's fiancé Gary to re-trace her steps and meet with police and local officials. Gary spent an additional two months criss-crossing Syria searching for clues. My mother joined Gary in Syria in July 2007 and met with the Grand Mufti as well as the Minister of the Interior. She also made a personal plea on Syrian television and we put ads in the newspapers and local flyers. Gary and my mother returned to Syria in April 2008 to raise awareness and follow up on leads with officials and the police.

My mother returned to Syria with Gary for a third visit in March 2009 and we continue to work with Syrian government and police officials on the investigation.

There is up to 2,250,000 Syrian pounds ($45,000) in reward money for information leading us to Nicole.

We are currently looking for other guests at the Cairo Hotel in case they spoke with Nicole. A list is at the bottom of this page.

Nicole

For pictures of Nicole and what she was wearing when she disappeared, as well as relevant personal information and summaries of the search so far, please visit:

http://www.findnicolevienneau.com/

From the "official" website, you can also submit anonymous tips, view the picture gallery and download posters and Nicole's notes. Arabic versions of most pages are also available.


You can always email me directly and anonymously at mattv99@hotmail.com

All comments and emails, public and private, are read immediately, but unfortunately I cannot respond to everyone. Feel free to respond in any language that you're comfortable with, though all of my responses will likely be in English.

Nicole

March 31st, 2012 (Afternoon):

Today marks five years since Nicole disappeared from the Cairo Hotel or in the vicinity in Hama. Despite five years of searching, we really have no new clues as to what has happened to her, though we strongly suspect one of the hotel staff was involved.

Syria today is very different from Syria of five years ago. There are certainly no tourists in Hama anymore, and there probably won't be any going there in the immediate future either.

Hollywood tells us that stories always have an ending, but unfortunately that's just not true. In those first few weeks we were so confident we'd figure out what happened. And then as each lead dried up the worry in the back of our minds increased, "what if we never find her?". That has turned out to be the case and we may end up being one of those families still searching 20 or 30 years later. You can never really give up.

An old friend of Nicole's has been putting huge amounts of effort into finding her. He's been posting on Twitter and updating a blog with details. You can read some updates here, here, and here.

Other people continue to offer suggestions and take action. It is very difficult to keep up hope after so much time has passed. All we need is one person who knows or suspects what happens to come to us, but they'll probably be in Syria and unlikely to have access to us anymore. Hopefully one day.

March 6th, 2012 (Afternoon):

Canada has withdrawn all diplomats and government staff from Syria. All Canadians have been urged to leave Syria. As per the official Government of Canada Travel Report:

"Civil unrest and demonstrations have been occurring in many Syrian cities since March 2011. There has been extensive use of force by the security forces and military in suppressing demonstrations across the country. Many casualties and fatalities have been reported and protests and violent repression are likely to continue. Security operations have involved the complete lock-down of entire towns for periods varying from a few days to a few weeks. This may take place with little warning."

Needless to say, our hopes of getting any information about what happened to Nicole have diminished greatly in the short term.

February 11th, 2012 (Morning):

Syria continues to be in the news as world opinion is slowly being swayed by the stories of what is happening. Once again, no progress on our search as we approach nearly five years since Nicole went missing. To think that at first I thought this could be resolved in five days or at worse, five weeks!

January 7th, 2012 (Afternoon):

Another month of chaos in Syria. In early 2011, the violence in Syria wasn't making the international news very frequently, but that has certainly changed. It is not surprising that we have heard nothing from Syrian officials, Canadian embassy officials, or our own contacts within Syria. This makes it difficult to move forward in the search.

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Current Mood: worriedworried
Current Music: Gerard McMann - "Cry Little Sister"
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 09:21 am (UTC)
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I can't see your email anywhere. please contact me from this link: http://erinch.com/contact
I know people who lives in Turkey on Syrian border, they can contact the officials to get some info.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 09:46 am (UTC)

Post to Lonelyplanet and other major backpacker sites

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Hi there,

I can only suggest that you get this message out to the loneylplanet style websites, she's bound to have had daily contact with fellow backpackers, someone out there will know of her last wherabouts. Also try the backpacker travel agencies, they constantly run tours through those areas and probably have bumped into her along the way.

Posting on other social networking sites is a great idea as well, again these places are popular with us backpackers

Hope you find her!

Karianna (from Digg)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 10:04 am (UTC)
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I've posted ur story to the editors of sytia's leading webportal, syria-news.com they have a good investigation team but the local news r in arabic.
The only accident with unidentified bodies took place on the 24 April, a coach near the Iraqi border.
Anyway I suggest submitting ur story to syrian soacial sites and forums.

I'm syrian staying abroad, feel free to contact me: ta82sy@yahoo.com

From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 10:10 am (UTC)

I am in Jordan, will help you

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Hey my name is Wisam, I am an american traveling the middle east with a friend. I am of Iraqi dissent and could greatly help you with your problem.. I am planning to goto Syria in the next few days.. Please be in touch with me and we could coordinate something? my E-Mail is wisammy@gmail.com please be in touch ASAP..
[User Picture]
From:bo_ofhillpeople
Date:May 1st, 2007 10:34 am (UTC)
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I'll see if I can pass this along to the folks i know who are traveling in that area.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 11:09 am (UTC)

We're In Syria

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Hi, we are in Damascus at the moment & can ask around at a few hotels here. We plan to leave the country tomorrow so I'm sorry we can't spread the word much further.

It's a shame that people have taken to adding politically charged posts on such a sensitive site. All I will say is that this is one of the friendliest most hospitable places I have ever been.

If you have contacted the Canadian Consulate here I would expect that they would make it their own urgent priority to contact hotels etc here - most backpackers in Syria follow a fairly standard route & invariably end up at the same hotels, all of which have to keep personal details of their guests. We have found when we call some hotels (to book) their English isn't so good, but the consulate should have Arabic speakers who could call all of the main budget hotels quite easily.

Good Luck
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 11:02 am (UTC)

Lonely Planet's Thorntree

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Just my 2 cents - Lonely Planet's Thorntree forums are an excellent resource for backpacker communications. 5 years ago I did some backpacking through southeast Asia and was literally amazed at how all the ex-pats and backpackers used it as a makeshift communications system. If I was you I would put word out via their forums. This is distressing news for everyone with a soul who reads it. I pray for your sister's safe return home.
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 1st, 2007 09:06 pm (UTC)

Re: Lonely Planet's Thorntree

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An excellent idea, and one that a friend of ours in Vancouver beat me to - he added the link yesterday.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 12:29 pm (UTC)
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I spent three weeks in syria albeit pre-iraq invasion. Getting money in syria electronically was almost impossible, so I went with $3000 dollars strapped to my leg. Also, at that time use of the internet was restricted and i dont remember seeing a single internet cafe. I left no record of bank withdraws and did not communicate with anyone out side of syria.

There are probably 3 or 4 Reuters and AP freelance reporters living in Damascus. They are usually 30 something guys, well traveled, super helpful, and often well connected. They are a good start for informed tightly-nit expat communities and might be able to offer some help.

hope everything turns out alright and when you sister comes back you can tell her she had the whole world worried.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 01:12 pm (UTC)

Third World Countries

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I wouldn't be worried just yet about this turn of events. When I was in Brazil I could not find any Internet cafes in the back water I was living in and the Internet at the hotel did not work. I was there for three weeks without Internet.

How long is she expected to be in Syria? Has she got explicit instructions to contact you and the other members of her family? If not, then I would just wait and she will eventually be in a position to use modern day technology for communication.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 12:41 pm (UTC)

Good luck

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I hope she returns safely. Best og luck from Copenhagen.

Jens
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 01:35 pm (UTC)

Moron

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Well if she ever makes it back I would tell her to keep her dumb ass out of Syria. I would suggest staying here to help the homeless, sick and dying here.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 01:55 pm (UTC)

chill out

(Link)

it is normal to disappear in Syria, things are so laid back and folks love to chill out.

Swedish girl returns after Syria disappearance
http://www.thelocal.se/7070/
Re: Moron - (Anonymous) - Expand
Re: Moron - (Anonymous) - Expand
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 02:01 pm (UTC)

Digg won't cut it

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Hey man -- sorry to hear all this. I hope it takes a turn for the better.

My two cents worth, digg and other social sites are a good start, but I don't think that alone will cut it.
Have you tried involving the media? Did you write about this to news stations? Newspapers? Your MP or MPP?

A search on Google News on your sis' name still yields nothing..

Good luck!
From:herbaz
Date:May 1st, 2007 02:25 pm (UTC)

really sorry

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I'm really sorry to hear that ,

I can help in anything , I know Arabic and I have some friends there I will contact them
:( I hope she is fine

From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 02:31 pm (UTC)

Canadian Embassy

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yes there is a very important Canadian Embassy in Damascus. it serves both Syria and Lebanon. Normally Canadians "check in" with the embassy first so that the embassy can keep track of them.. did you try contacting the embassy yet?

I'm a Syrian Canadian, I will see what i can do. i will post this in Syrian forums for now.
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 1st, 2007 05:38 pm (UTC)

Re: Canadian Embassy

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Much appreciated. That's the sort of linking we need to find people who speak the language and are on-site and able to ask around.

We've contacted Foreign Affairs, who then contact all the agencies. My sister was very independent and didn't check in with embassies when entering new countries.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 02:35 pm (UTC)

New Sites

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You should try posting to news sites: ABC, MSNBC, etc. Maybe they'd run a story.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 02:41 pm (UTC)

Re: New Sites

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++agree. Contact the media, make as much noise as you possibly can. I really do hope this has a happy ending for ya.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 02:47 pm (UTC)

hope to provide any kind of help

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I don't know what they publish in their newspapers, but here is a list of Syrian newspaper sites you can check out if you haven't already:

http://www.onlinenewspapers.com/syria.htm

and Turkish newspaper sites:

http://www.onlinenewspapers.com/turkey.htm

I wish you and your family the best. *HUG*

Jess

From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 03:37 pm (UTC)

Advice - Contact Israeli Amabassador

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Israel keeps constant tabs on the Syrian border, and often has intel on Hezbullah, etc. I would try to get in touch with some Israeli contacts to see if they can provide you with any information that they would not otherwise share with the public.

Best of luck! Thoughts and prayers are with you and her and your family.
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From:somuchforhope
Date:May 1st, 2007 06:20 pm (UTC)

Re: Advice - Contact Israeli Amabassador

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That's a really, really bad idea. Are you trying to waste his time?

Why would Israel have any information about a random Canadian backpacker in Syria? There are thousands of western tourists in Syria right now, and I don't think Israeli intelligence really cares about them. They are probably focusing on other things, don't you think?
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 03:53 pm (UTC)

From Syria

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Hi,

It's Sasa here from the Syria News Wire. I have posted details of your appeal, and I hope it bears fruit very soon. My thoughts are with you and your family.

What's the best way for people to get in contact with you if they have any information? I have asked people just to add a comment here. Is that best?

Details are here: here. (http://saroujah.blogspot.com/2007/05/canadian-missing-in-syria.html)

The Canadian Embassies in Damascus and Ankara, and the Syrian and Turkish Embassies in Canada are your best bet.
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 1st, 2007 05:46 pm (UTC)

Re: From Syria

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I can also be contacted at mattv99@hotmail.com

Thank you very much for linking my search.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 03:55 pm (UTC)

Contact Syrian Embassy in Ottawa

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Hi man,
I will keep checking Syrian online news for accidents and such. Any accidents involving foreigners usually get published on frontpages.

Contact the Syrian embassy in Ottawa. they can issue an alert back there for her.613-569-5556

let us know.
best luck
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 04:13 pm (UTC)

Good luck

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I hope she is found, Syria is the one of the last places to go. It is a hotbed of terrorists and extremist views. Why would anyone go there. You are just asking for it. It is a country that harbors terrorists and would harm any westerner if it had the chance.

Good Luck!!!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 06:12 pm (UTC)

Re: Good luck

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There are terrorists and extremists of all kinds (social, religious, economic, militant, etc) everywhere who treat foreigners with disrespect, including in America.

It's best not to generalize or judge until you've been to the country of which you speak. (The media is full of propaganda everywhere.)

Instead, channel that negative energy into helping someone who needs your help, it will be much better received and welcome. :)
Re: Good luck - (Anonymous) - Expand
Re: Good luck - (Anonymous) - Expand
Re: Good luck - (Anonymous) - Expand
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 04:47 pm (UTC)

From Syria Again

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Hi - I wrote from Syria a few posts back;

I have just been to the four hotels in Saroujah - almost all backpackers stay at one of these four. Some understood what I was trying to explain better than others & I tried to check all of their 'log' books to see if there was any record of Nicole. I didn't find anything, but I have to stress that with my lack of Arabic vocab & their lack of understanding of the situation, it wasn't the most comprehensive search.

I also went to the Immigration Office but it was closed as today is a holiday.

We leave tomorrow, so I am sorry I can't help much further here. However, as I mentioned before & as one of the hotel owners said to me - the Canadian Consulate should easily be able to establish where she has been in Syria & if she has left or not.

There are only a handful of hotels that foreigners stay in, so it is really a case of them contacting these, along with the immigration department. I was told that if I went to immigration they probably wouldn't help, but if the consulate contacted them they would do all that they could.

I'm not sure what your dealings with the consulate are so far, but perhaps you need to talk to them again. When I went to the hotels I half expected them to say that the consulate had already been in touch with them, but clearly they had not.

It easy & cheap to extend a visa in Syria, however as mentioned, she may have travelled on to Turkey or beyond. I assume you're tracking with authorities there too?

I wish you all the best in your search & wish we were here longer to help.

I would suggest that maybe you put together a fact sheet or poster that someone could print out & distribute or show people on the ground here?

Finally, to all the people saying negative things here about Syria - I suggest you open your mind a little & think beyond what you see on your heavily biased western tv screens.

Syria is remarkably safe - it is the kind of country where people constantly offer you tea, food & invites to their home. Crime is almost non existent & I feel extremely safe. People are very very friendly indeed to tourists.

Some people in Syria may think that they are the lucky ones - I'm sure I don't need to remind anyone of the senseless violence that occurs daily in Europe & North America?

[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 1st, 2007 05:49 pm (UTC)

Re: From Syria Again

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Thank you so much for your efforts. It is very gratifying to know that all of this Internet work is turning into actual visits. You wouldn't happen to know the names of any of the places you checked?

I am going to pull together a list of easy to read facts as you've suggested and update the blog so it's available for everyone. I'm investigating whether there's already a poster in the works from the RCMP, and if not, I'll make one.

Thanks again, it's really appreciated that you went to this extra effort.

Matt
From:dennispmccann
Date:May 1st, 2007 04:56 pm (UTC)

I'm in Turkey. Can I help?

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Hi,

Just read your post.

I'm an American living in Ankara. A friend of mine knows a guy at the Syrian embassy, and I know a lady who works at the Canadian embassy.

Let me know what i can do to help.

You can reach me at dennispmccann (at) paperdragonstudios.com
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 04:58 pm (UTC)

your best bet, contact couchsurfing.com

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post this there. couchsurfers of the world unite!

[User Picture]
From:somuchforhope
Date:May 1st, 2007 05:35 pm (UTC)
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I'm not sure how or if I can help you, but I'm an American who has been living in Syria for the past year and four months working on a travel guide to the country, so I know the place fairly well and am familiar with people working at budget/backpacker hotels throughout the country.

First of all, if you want someone here to contact directly, you call my mobile anytime at +963 98-8453830. My name is Daniel.

It is highly unusual for any foreigner to 'disappear' in Syria, so I want to suggest a few possibilities.

One of the most popular backpacker stops in Syria nowadays is a monastery called Deir Mar Musa. It is fairly isolated out in the mountains east of a village called al-Nabk. They have a telephone (which I'll try to get the number of), but no internet access. Many people visit this monastery intending just to stay a night, and end up staying for weeks or even months.

Syrian authorities keep records of all hotel registries - so, while dealing with their bureaucracy will liking be incredibly time consuming, they will have records of exactly where she stayed and when. Of course they'll also have records of arrivals and departures, and I don't think it would be too difficult for the Canadian embassy to contact authorities and determine whether she is in the country or not. Keep in mind that, even if she only had a one month visa, they are easily extended for months longer. And many travelers end up spending far more time in Syria than they initially plan.

Popular budget/backpacker hotels are:

Damascus - al-Haramain, al-Rabie, Ghazal, al-Saadeh
Hama - Cairo Hotel, Riad Hotel
Aleppo - Spring Flower Hostel, Tourist Hotel, al-Ghawaher
Lattakia - Lattakia Hotel, Safwan Hotel
Tartus - Daniel Hotel

One of the staff at all of these hotels should be able to speak English if contacted by telephone. I have friends working at a few of these hotels and will contact them myself if you'd like. I speak a little Arabic, and obviously have access to many people to translate if need be.

I don't think her being seriously injured or killed in a car or bus accident is likely, because the Syrian government would likely notify Canada's embassy pretty quickly if that happened. The Syrian government generally looks over foreigners quite diligently.

Your sister actually does look familiar, but I run into so many other travelers recently (it has been very busy these last 2 months), I can't say I've seen her for sure.

Either way, I hope I can help. My e-mail address is in my profile.
[User Picture]
From:somuchforhope
Date:May 1st, 2007 06:27 pm (UTC)
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P.S. I've added you on MSN - ourlivesareparallel@hotmail.com
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 06:02 pm (UTC)

internet access in Syria

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coming from a Syrian origin, and now living in Canada.. you should know that getting internet access in Syria is extremely difficult (if not impossible) if you're not in a major city (and there are only 3 major cities in Syria).. and due to censorship all access to most free emails is blocked.. so not hotmail or yahoo mail is easily accessible... people know how to bypass the security from their homes, but I have no idea how easy that is from public internet cafes (if she is in a place that has any)..

I am not propagating anything, but it is not in the nature of Syrian people to harass tourists.. they are usually very welcoming and helpful.. of course it is a third world country where people live in very difficult financial situations.. but i haven't heard of any stories about kidnapped tourists before... I have been out from there for the past 10 years so I can't say for sure.. but don't worry.. Canadians are on the top 5 list of nationalities in Syria..

best of luck, we have your blog posted on all Syrian blog aggregators and if anyone knows anything they know how to contact you.

keep the hopes up..
[User Picture]
From:somuchforhope
Date:May 1st, 2007 06:25 pm (UTC)

Re: internet access in Syria

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Internet access in Syria is very easy to find these days. It has really changed quickly in the last 5-10 years. There are numerous internet cafes in Damascus, Homs, Hama, Aleppo, Tartus, Lattakia, Tadmor (Palmyra) and even many small towns like Bludan, Kassab, etc. The only fairly large town/city I haven't found an internet cafe in is al-Raqqa, though there isn't much reason to stay there for more than a couple days!

They haven't attempted to censor Hotmail or Yahoo! Mail in awhile, either, because most internet cafes were just using proxies to get around the blocks. I haven't had trouble accessing either in atleast one year.
[User Picture]
From:anarekist
Date:May 1st, 2007 09:29 pm (UTC)
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wow man, this is scary, i gave you a digg, not much else i can do:(

i really hope this turns out alright. best of luck.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 1st, 2007 09:50 pm (UTC)
(Link)
http://www.cbc.ca/canada/new-brunswick/story/2007/05/01/nb-tradeswomen.html

Does this story speak of the same Nicole Vienneau?

Just googled and ran into the story. Also, if David Vienneau was your father (I'm sorry to hear of your loss if so), might he have had any journalistic connections who may be able to help your family in the search?

Just a thought.
[User Picture]
From:vienneau
Date:May 1st, 2007 10:16 pm (UTC)
(Link)
Not the same person, though it's strange that it's popped up on Google at the exact same time.

We are working the media connections angle as much as we can. Unfortunately, media companies have cut back a lot in the past decade or two so they don't have as many foreign correspondents that you can easily call because they just use AP/Reuters. Were my father still alive, he may have had some old buddies around the world to check in with, but all the ones we know of we've been checking with.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Expand
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