My Sister, Nicole Vienneau, Has Gone Missing in Syria - Updates from August 1st to 31st

August 31st (Morning):

Once again I'm waking up exhausted - between the heat and the stress and what seems to be a small case of the sniffles, I haven't had a reasonable night of rest all week. And when I'm tired I'm useless - my eyes glaze over when reading emails and I can't concentrate on things that I need to do (both Nicole and not-Nicole related).

This weekend I'm heading off camping for a few more days of rest, so there won't be any updates this weekend. It seems like the well of information has pretty much dried up except for a few greatly appreciated people who are still plugging away. This is partially my fault - I'm not holding up my end and keeping things moving. Today marks five months since Nicole disappeared, and it's getting difficult to keep pushing, even at the much slower pace I've adopted recently.

Reviewing the notes from the Embassy regarding the body found near Shmemis, all it says is that the body isn't Nicole. It's pretty clear that the body was of a male, so that's not hard to guarantee. The issue is whether this somehow related to Nicole's disappearance as well. We'll have to follow up on that, and once again - if you have any information, please let us know.

August 29th (Evening):

Things are proceeding well with the fundraiser in Vancouver on the 22nd of September - hundreds of guests are tentatively expected. Scroll down to the August 24th entry for additional details.

Some readers in the blog are pointing out how Nicole's entry in the Citadel Hotel Guest List regarding her stay in Palmyra looks "off". It doesn't match the entries around it and doesn't have a departure date. Feel free to take a look for yourself and see what you can deduce. At this point, the Citadel Hotel reports that she only stayed two nights, but we know she spent four in Palmyra. Her journal doesn't indicate any kind of moving between hotels, so we've presumed it's just a case of bad record keeping - the folks we've found who met with Nicole in Palmyra left her after two days to continue on their own trip.

This led me to a new hypothesis today, that's about as un-credible as the rest. Perhaps Nicole skipped out on the bill at the Citadel only to (coincidentally?) run into one of the staff or owners in Hama? She's never skipped out on a bill before, but she could definitely put out a lot of attitude if she felt she was being treated unfairly, and she always fought for the hardest bargains, perhaps to an extreme. In the movies they frequently say, "follow the money" - perhaps this is a simple "I want my money back" scheme that went wrong?

As I said, unlikely, but we lack answers so everything is a possibility.

I continue to receive emails regarding the man's body found in Shmemis with gunshot wounds and the rumours linking it to Nicole. While the Embassy has assured us it has nothing to do with Nicole, the consistency of the rumours is suggesting, if I may use the cliche, "where there's smoke, there's fire". If anyone has contacts in the area, or can investigate the newspapers and so on, we'd love to hear more information on the situation.

August 27th (Evening):

A helpful contact in the comments has linked a new article on Nicole and the two men that were arrested. It's in Arabic but the Google translator does a reasonable job at getting the gist across.

As mentioned earlier today, I gave an incorrectly spelled email address for the fundraiser in Vancouver on the 22nd. I've updated the original posting from the 24th.

With all the things going on I've fallen behind on my reading. I just finished my copy of Business Week from back on July 30th and it has an article on searching for non-famous people and how difficult it can be. They mention a few new sites for searching for "John Q. Public". I was hoping that the various people helping with searches (or people interested in trying) could try these sites out and see if they can't find some more hotel guests. They list, and (specializes in executives). I'm not sure how effective they'll be as I couldn't even find myself on the first one - perhaps I've become sufficiently famous to no longer qualify as a regular person? The other two had a half-dozen links to me, so I suspect they're at least a bit effective, and may reach sites that Google has missed.

There was an article in the Toronto Star on Saturday about missing people and the role of hope in the search. They interviewed me, though it's always difficult to fit a 20-minute discussion into an article. There's apparently been a rash of missing people this summer and people are noticing. I had noticed that trend myself, but assumed it was just because I was looking for it. Hopefully the trend will be short-lived!

August 27th (Noon):

Quick correction - the email contact for the fundraiser is:

jojotrainor AT (replace the " AT " with @)

If you've attempted to contact Jo-Anne at the incorrect email address, please try again.

August 24th (Evening):

As always, Fridays are a bit slow for news. After the past week, it's a bit of a relief. Tomorrow I'll be busy all day and night so there won't be another update until Sunday.

Some amazing people in Vancouver are holding a fundraiser to assist with the search for Nicole:

Saturday, September 22nd
Kingston Taphouse and Grille
755 Richards Street
Vancouver, BC

There will be a silent auction, 50/50 draw, and your $25 ticket will include a choice of four dinner options and a drink. People interested in purchasing tickets can reach Jo-Ann the organizer at jojotrainor AT (Replace the " AT " with @)

Gary, Nicole's partner, will be there, as will many of her friends, teammates and co-workers. Come out and help the cause!

August 23rd (Morning):

Another morning update. Waking up at 6:15 and being unable to fall asleep after less than six hours of rest is not the position that I want to be in these days, but with so much going on in my head recently, I can't seem to keep my brain quiet.

Another reminder: Gary will be doing a live interview on Global thsi morning between 8am and 8:20am Vancouver time (PST). Again, we're not sure if it's national or not.

One of our readers, Katja, took it upon herself to try and find the Americans in Syria through a quick search of ex-patriate websites and message boards with Syrian themes. This seems like an excellent way to find Americans living in Syria as I have to imagine almost all of them have Internet access so they can contact people back home. If people are looking to help and enjoy searching the Internet, feel free to find these kinds of sites and post our story and specifically our search for Americans living in Syria. Note that the most prolific American living in Syria (according to the web) is "Daniel" who has already gotten in contact with us and been very helpful.

Several people have offered their sympathies for the "stress" of reading yesterday that Nicole was found dead (a false story, I want to repeat). This brings up a point that may trouble some, but will hopefully give some insight into what this search is like for those that are interested (and hopefully no one ever has to go through).

My first reaction upon reading that a body had been found and identified as Nicole's (again, not true) was relief. Relief and a bit of excitement that finally, the search was over. And even a touch of not-quite-happiness that the person who had done it was caught, so it really was over and no additional searching for the perpetrators would be necessary.

Granted, this relief was tinged with skepticism. Not only have we had other situations like this (though never quite as clearly identified as Nicole), but I knew I had an email from the Embassy deeper in my in-box that would likely have additional explanation.

So in fact, the cruelest thing is when we think it is over, only to find out that it is not. Fortunately, this wasn't such a long period of time, so it wasn't really an issue in this case.

Some people may be thinking, "how can he be relieved to find out his sister is dead?" (again, a false report). At this point, there is a strong likelihood that Nicole is no longer alive. Different members of the family (and likely all of you) each have a different guess as to that likelihood, but the possibility is definitely there. I've had over 20 weeks to get used to that idea, and it's a lot easier to assume the worst and be pleasantly surprised than to hope for the best and be crushed.

The search, however, grinds on interminably. Not knowing is much more difficult to come to grips with than knowing the worst, difficult though that may be to believe. Thus, at this point, my expected optimal result is that she's no longer with us, but we find her. My best case is that she's obviously alive, but the worst case is that we never find her at all.

August 22th (Morning):

A startling revelation in the comments this morning that was luckily proven to be just a rumour within minutes. A reader posted that Nicole's body was found last week near Salamiyah (on "Ain Azzarqa" near Shmemis) - a woman reported seeing someone burying someone and it was reported that he killed Nicole and a cousin who was the only witness. Nicole's body was then apparently found. A surprising wake-up email.

Fortunately, a few emails later in my in-box (I read the most recent emails first), Embassy staff in Syria emailed to say that it was *not* Nicole. "Careful checking revealed that [the report] was incorrect". For the family's sake, I'm happy to have received this information before we began to panic. And it is comforting to know that the people on the ground in Syria are on top of the rumours and news.

Thus, the search continues. I would be interested in knowing more about the Salamiyah situation, however.

Gary will be doing a live interview on Global on Thursday August 23rd between 8am and 8:20am Vancouver time (PST). It's unclear if it will be picked up nationally, so it may only be viewable by the Canadian West Coast.

If anyone in Syria or the Middle East, or anywhere in the world, thinks they've heard rumours that Nicole has been found (dead or alive) and/or the body of an unidentified woman in Syria, please let us know by email or posting a message in the blog. If there's a link to a news article (Arabic, English, whatever), please send that as well so we can follow up. We're unable to keep on top of the Arabic newspapers in particular, so don't assume that we've already seen it as we probably haven't and I'd rather get 5 emails with the same link than to never hear about it at all.

August 20th (Evening):

The wedding turned out quite well - a few small inquiries to my mother and I, but nothing significant. After two days of being the centre of everyone's attention, I suspect I was overly sensitive. In the end, a significant number of guests had no idea who I was and I was perfectly fine with that. It is also touching to hear that people are reading the blog. I don't have a page view counter or anything similar, so I have no idea how many people out there are actually reading this. It's good to meet those that are once in a while - it encourages me to keep going.

My apologies to the people who have written emails - I am once again having trouble finding the energy to respond. After any flurry of excitement there tends to be a bit of a lull where nothing is happening, and it is difficult to get enthused about staring at hotel lists and an endless list of extremely unlikely leads. You want to follow up on everything, but it becomes difficult to keep doing. What I'm finding is we'll have a reasonable lead and then my activities tend to freeze as my brain rationalizes waiting to see how it turns out before moving on to the next one.

To keep things trickier, my regular life is intruding fairly insistently. Upcoming events and weddings, as well as the usual busy-ness of the Fall, means finding time is increasingly problematic.

I do want to thank the people that took the time to follow up with my requests from August 14th. If you re-posted our story in your blog, or followed up with an NGO, sex-trade or women's organization, then we really appreciate it. Please let us know if they respond and if they have any information to pass along. Again, these are unlikely avenues, but they are the only straws left for us to grasp at.

August 18th (Noon):

As expected, the media flurry disappeared within 24 hours. Understandable given that we didn't actually find Nicole or people that took her. I did a radio interview for CFUN in Vancouver yesterday morning (their time) and that was a bit different because I guess it was a regular show so it was a discussion with two hosts. One of them had done a lot of solo-travelling and I get a lot of emails from women who have travelled extensively, often on their own, and Nicole's disappearance really touches them.

In a little while I'm off to my cousin's wedding. I expect it will be several hours of talking about Nicole and receiving condolences, which is not really the best way to celebrate someone's happiest day of their life. I know people feel awkward not mentioning it, and I empathize, but I just spent the two days doing nothing *but* talking about it. We'll see how it goes. On the plus side, I can get drunk at the open bar with my brothers and make a fool of myself and all will be forgiven.

(Humour is one of the best defences against despair) :-)

This is the second major family event since Nicole's disappearance - I missed the first one when I was in Syria. It will overshadow every event in the near future, and that's troubling. My mom and I will end up as negative centres of attention at otherwise positive events and I hate detracting from the focus of the gathering.

August 16th (Afternoon):

Wow. What a busy day. It started at 9:30, and when the interviews and calls finally ended, it was suddenly 5 in the evening. This has been good for us as it will bring new people in to help with the search and hopefully open up some more leads. There are articles everywhere - for a selection, check out CanWest Global, CTV News, and the CBC. There are various links from these articles to older articles as well as the video feeds - the National, Newsnet, Global News, etc. A reader also posted an early newscast on Nicole to YouTube.

In addition to the video press, there will be articles in the Toronto Star and National Post tomorrow morning. Various radio stations interviewed me, mostly on the West Coast, and I will be on Canada AM tomorrow for the third time, at roughly 8:05.

I suspect much of the press is related to the phrasing of the Associated Press article as it seems to indicate the suspects know Nicole's whereabouts. I want to repeat that the two men that were arrested are not believed to have any information on Nicole, they were just looking to extort money or amuse themselves. I was expecting this sort of thing to happen eventually (the perils of putting yourself out on the Internet) and was prepared for it. It's disappointing to be yet another false lead, and it has been a bit distracting these past few weeks, but it's not a surprise. As I said in a couple of the interviews, we're getting a little too used to disappointment at this point, so it doesn't bother us as much as it used it.

Gary has also been doing interviews in Vancouver. He doesn't have the luxury of being able to skip work on a moment's notice, but he was able to respond to some media requests including The Province, CBC Radio and CTV. Look for him tomorrow on CityTV Vancouver and perhaps again on CBC.

All this added attention once again forces us to answer, "what can people do to help?" Right now, the best thing to do is probably chat with your local politician and ask them to make this an issue for Canada. Relations between Canada and Syria are not the best, but if we hope to bring this to the attention of the Syrian president and get his personal involvement, it will likely require some diplomacy from our elected officials.

In addition to that, mentioning our story in the US press has been a goal of ours for months. We're currently searching for some American tourists who chatted with Nicole a day or two before she disappeared, but we've been stymied in our attempts to find them. We have names and passport numbers, but without significant U.S. awareness of our search, we haven't been able to find them. The U.S. government has not been able to help for privacy reasons (or so we've been told by Foreign Affairs).

I'm going to head back to work tomorrow - experience shows that these sorts of things tend to die down relatively quickly in the media. Should I be wrong on that, expect to see a bunch more links tomorrow!

August 16th (Morning):

As some of you may have noticed, this morning the Spanish police released a statement concerning two arrests in connection with Nicole going missing. If you Google "spanish-police-arrest-2-syrians" you'll get an ever-growing list of hits. Or you can go directly to this link from Canada's own CBC.

Before anyone gets too excited, the arrested Syrians do NOT have any information on what happened to Nicole. They were arrested for sending me emails saying that they did but they never provided any evidence. Neither the Spanish nor Canadian police believe they have any actual connection to Nicole's disappearance.

I didn't realize the press release was going out, so it was a bit of a surprise when I received the first request for an interview this morning to discuss "new breakthroughs on the case". The second interview request a few minutes later pointed me to the article, and by the fourth at 9:45 this morning, I realized I wasn't going to work today.

A few weeks ago I received an email that I couldn't read - you may recall my post on being unable to properly display Arabic characters in Hotmail. I responded in English saying I couldn't read the email so they re-sent it in Spanish. They also sent an Arabic version to one of the contacts that has been helping us search, and he forwarded it along with a translation.

A co-worker translated the Spanish email and said that the style of Spanish indicated Spain as opposed to Mexico or South America. A volunteer expert on these sorts of criminal issues pointed out clues indicating that the sender was an amateur and did not actually have Nicole. We approached the RCMP and they contacted Interpol Madrid who found the suspects and began surveillance, hoping that they would lead us to Nicole.

Needless to say, it felt a bit surreal to know that somewhere in Spain, a "SWAT Team" equivalent was waiting for the right moment to burst in and rescue Nicole if she happened to be there, or if clues to her whereabouts were suddenly revealed.

Eventually the suspects were arrested and interviewed this week, and it became clear that they were just in it for the money or personal kicks. Despite being relatively certain they didn't know anything, you always have a faint hope that they might be telling the truth and we would finally know what happened, so it was of course disappointing. At this point, however, we're pretty used to disappointment.

I'll update more later - I've been on the phone constantly this morning so this took two hours to write out. As soon as I hang up, the phone rings within minutes.

August 14th (Evening):

Two quick items today as we've got family in from out of town.

Someone in the blog comments suggested contacting organizations for escaped sex slaves and seeing if they recognize Nicole's picture. This is one way to investigate if that's what happened that I hadn't pondered. If anyone knows of any such organizations, please contact them on our behalf and ask. I know I've been sent some relevant websites in the past few months, but I wasn't able to follow up on them. Any assistance in this is greatly appreciated.

Another reader mentioned that they had posted a "Please Don't Forget About Nicole" message in their blog. This struck me as an excellent idea. If the various people who posted about Nicole way back in May and June could re-post a message that may help find clues or reach new people. Now that people have had a few months to digest (and forget) the story, a reminder may prompt them to recall something, or even email us with "well, I didn't want to bother you, but since you still haven't found her I wanted to pass along this strange story from my trip to Hama...".

August 13th (Evening):

I'm back on the search. After a weekend of avoiding the blog altogether, I was refreshed enough this evening to answer some emails and go over some hotel lists. Keep in mind that I continue to read all the emails, it's just the responding that takes time.

We found an American guest at the Cairo Hotel...but it's the wrong one. The guest arrived on April 1st after Nicole disappeared and didn't have any new information. There has been a surge in interest in find the Americans and one reader has started calling everyone in the Northeastern U.S. with the same last name and initials. I hope it comes up with something.

A scenario that my mother has spoken of but has rarely been brought up by our contacts is the possibility that Nicole has been kidnapped by a high-ranking official of some sort. While a kidnapping has always been a popular theory, it's difficult to pull off without someone noticing the extra person hanging around. This is why suspicion at times centred on the Bedouin, who are a bit more remote. But another possibility is that she's right in Hama but "protected" by someone of power and influence.

While it's certainly possible, I would like to believe that our story has grown big enough in Syria that this is unlikely. There can't be too many people in Hama with power that stretches to Damascus, and I expect there would have to be servants or other disgruntled associates who would take advantage of the reward and downfall of someone they dislike. Granted, this may just mean Nicole was killed once we put some heat on the Syrians, but that's certainly a worst-case scenario that we hope isn't correct. If it is, it will be remarkably difficult to solve.

I received another email with comments on the Cairo Hotel and the staff. A couple of readers have told stories of inappropriate actions taken by hotel staff towards female guests when they are alone. I hope the police have investigated the staff as thoroughly as they can - while the Hotel may have no interest in harming Nicole, the staff may not feel the same way.

August 10th (Evening):

It's strange - some people have begun to ask when the search for Nicole will end. How much more of our lives will we consume with emails and blogs and travel? When do we go back to celebrating life and proposing to girlfriends and so on (that last one has been attracting a lot of attention these days)?

Until recently, I didn't have much of a plan but presumed a point in time would eventually become clear. All avenues would be followed and the incoming emails would slow. I'd start skipping blog updates as no new information came in and eventually they would stop altogether and I would get my blog back (though it seems difficult to imagine posting random articles after this).

This past week has been a tough one for new information, but we aren't giving up just yet. There are still some leads we're following, but they're necessarily low profile (i.e., I can't tell you what they are). As with all leads until now, they're low percentage plays - we don't expect them to turn anything up - but we can't ignore them.

I believe the real reason the emails have slowed is that I haven't had a chance to follow-up and send out feedback and responses. For example, I'm still trying to organize the Cairo Hotel guests lists that I sent out to a half-dozen translators (and hopefully received them back, though I can't be certain). But as always, the slog gets harder and harder, and the light at the end of the tunnel gets dimmer. Justifying 8-10 hours a day back in May when I was brimming with hope and anger was much easier than justifying even two hours now that I'm accepting the worst as a more likely possibility.

It does bug me that we still haven't found the Americans that chatted with Nicole a day or two before she disappeared. Sure, they're likely going to say what everyone else who met her has said: "I don't remember her saying anything about her future plans", but it would be nice to know that for certain. How can Americans be so tough for a Canadian to find? I can get a volunteer to knock on a door in the Czech Republic, but I can't contact any of a half-dozen Americans living in Syria. Exactly how many people could possibly fit that description?

Tomorrow I will be away celebrating three years with my girlfriend. I hope I can concentrate on finding the Americans on Sunday.

William Powers 1977
Catherine Powers 1978
Mardos Fakse 1979
Katherine Lu 1987
Barbara LU 1950
Aron Marcio/Marques 1980 USA
Daria Brococia 1982 Russia

(remember, spellings are phonetic translations; the last two are a couple)

August 8th (Evening):

It's been very tough to get back into the swing of things and start responding to emails and updating the blog. Catching up at work and trying to finish a project for Monday will consume most of my time, so my efforts will be inconveniently sporadic this week.

I've been receiving much fewer emails, but several of them have been rich with observations and/or ideas. A contact in Syria re-visited Hama recently (an earlier visit in May was much appreciated) and filled us in on what was found, while other contacts have provided some theories and reflective questions based on their own knowledge of the culture and country.

Unfortunately, while several people have agreed that it could have involved the military personnel, they also agreed that it would be relatively easy to cover up and difficult to investigate. Visiting the president was also recommended, though mention was made of how it may not be easy.

I'm still very weary from the camping trip, so that's it for today - I need sleep!

August 7th (Evening):

I'm back. Five days of trekking through the Ontario wilderness in a canoe has definitely tired me out, but it was good to get away from the computer and newspapers and everything "normal". I didn't seem to miss much - there were very few emails and little to no news.

Gary is still settling in out in Vancouver though he did indicate that he's paid for our poster to appear in the flyers around Hama again, likely on the 9th of August. I haven't received a whole bunch of updates from the last weeks of his trip, but I believe some of that relates to the airlines losing his luggage. My step-father is out West this week so they'll meet up and compare notes. It's been tough to give up responsibility for things and no longer "know everything", but not only am I grateful for the assistance and tremendous efforts of everyone else, it allows me to try and keep a regular life.

This past week an interview with the family aired on "al-Dunia", another Syrian/Arabic television network. We weren't able to get a copy, but hopefully they'll air it again while our contacts in Syria have their VCRs running.

I used to think that newspapers and media were pretty good about getting the details straight and supplying just the facts. I have now learned that this just isn't true, especially for your smaller media outlets. We've consistently found incorrect information listed in articles and news reports, from Nicole's age to where she lives to where she disappeared, etc. Generally not significant, but sometimes it is, though you can rarely do anything about it.

Recently my mother told me about a mix-up in a paper she saw while in Syria (though I believe it was a Canadian diplomatic publication). Instead of a picture of Nicole, it had a picture of my girlfriend! One of the shots we've provided are from when the three of us were in the Wadi Rum desert two weeks before she disappeared and I guess the paper got mixed up as to which girl was actually missing. I hope I can find a copy somewhere, if only to serve as a reminder not to trust everything I read.

I'm still pretty tired from sunburn, bug bites and sleeping on a rocky slope, so my apologies to anyone who hasn't received an email response. I'm going to be busy with work-related issues this week, so the already long lags will only get longer.

August 2nd (Morning):

I will be away for a few days, so please don't worry if there are no updates until Monday or Tuesday - I've compensated with an extra long update today. Some friends will be staying at the house, but I don't expect too many emergency calls.

Thank you to everyone who showed me how to properly view Arabic characters in Hotmail. It's ridiculously easy (Right click on the email, select Encoding, select Arabic Windows) - sometimes I wonder if I should really call myself an IT guy!

We have extended the reward to August 31st. There have been no claims yet, so it remains fully funded.

Gary has returned to Vancouver and even went into work yesterday. I know how hard that can be, but it can also be a very good distraction and break from the stress of searching.

There was an article recently that claimed that the family has Nicole's camera. This is incorrect. What we have are the memory chips with all of Nicole's pictures from earlier on (memory chips are like film, but for digital cameras). Fortunately for us, she started a new memory chip right as she arrived in Hama, so we have been able to follow her footsteps in photos to just a few days before she disappeared. We are most definitely still looking for her camera.

I want to talk briefly about the "Moukhabarat" or secret police in Syria. Early on in our search we were reassured by all Syrians that it was just a matter of time before Nicole was found because the Moukhabarat know everything going on in Syria. Many, in fact, suggested that they already knew what happened but just weren't telling us. This theme continues in the recent messages posted since the al-Arabiya article.

As I've come to understand it, the reality is that Syria is currently flooded with more than a million refugees from Iraq and Lebanon. Included among these refugees are various factions that concern the Syrian government a lot more than the random wanderings of a Canadian backpacker. Quite frankly, no organization in the world has the resources to keep track of that many people. Thus, it is understandable that Nicole may have slipped under their radar.

This brings us to follow-up - why can't they find her now that they've started looking? This leads to two interesting and very different conclusions:

1) They know what happened and aren't telling us.

2) She disappeared in such a way that the Moukhabarat can't find her using their usual methods of informants and intimidation and so on.

I find it very difficult to believe that the Syrians have knowledge of Nicole and aren't telling us. Their actions in publicizing the case within Syria this past month, combined with the hit to their reputation as a safe destination for foreigners is too high a cost to cover up whatever happened. Granted, this is just my opinion, and there could be rogue elements that are keeping it quiet, but we have to assume that this is the case because we have no options for moving forward if it isn't (other than continuing to publicize the search, which we are always doing).

That leads us to the second situation, and perhaps that's where we can find a clue. What are the possible scenarios that leave no witnesses and/or traces that the Moukhabarat could follow up on? This is one of the reasons I continue to ponder strange accidents, or situations with only one witness such as a single vehicle incident where the driver successfully covered things up (though that's difficult to do without any trace, especially in the middle of the day).

Now before people rush to call me naive, don't think that we're ruling out any possibilities. Having someone who stands out disappear in the middle of the day with no witnesses is very, very strange. It is so unlikely as to encourage thoughts of a cover-up by the police, government, or military at some level. But again I ask - what can we do about it?

People have said that talking directly to the president of Syria and asking for his involvement may be the only way to truly motivate the efforts of everyone involved and get this resolved. I am sorely tempted at times to use the free ticket offered by the UAE airlines to return to Damascus and request an audience and not leave until I get one. I suspect my mother would be strongly opposed - she has no interest in losing a second child to Syria.

August 1st (Evening):

The Syrian police have confirmed that the young woman found murdered beside the highway a few days ago (see July 30th entry) is not Nicole. This is good news.

I wanted to clear up an item from yesterday regarding Arabic emails. It's not that the emails are in Arabic so I can't read them, it's that Hotmail doesn't translate the Arabic characters properly so it appears in my email like this:

ربي يحفظها ويرعاها وترجع إلى أهلها بالسلامة يارب

I can't find any settings inside Hotmail that allow Arabic characters to display, though one hopes they've fixed this feature in their latest version.

I want to talk briefly about the gear Nicole was carrying when she disappeared, in case that can help us find her. On the official site, we have pictures of her camera, blue bag, glasses, hat and shoes. Our hope is that someone in Syria may recognize these for sale somewhere, or someone wearing them on the street (though they are not traditional clothing for the area) and contact us. There are rewards for finding any of Nicole's items, not just for finding Nicole herself.

I will be going away for a few days from Thursday night through to Monday. A much needed trip "away from it all" where I won't be accessible by phone or email. This means that there will be no updates to the blog or responses to emails, but please don't hesitate to continue sending them. I will try and get one last posting in tomorrow morning before work, we'll have to see if anything new develops overnight.

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