here, there, everywhere

Canadian Girl Missing in Syria

In Middle East, Syria on May 8, 2007 at 7:05 pm

Nicole Vienneau, missing in Syria since March 31, 2007.

For everyone who knows that Nicole Vienneau, a Canadian woman, is missing in Syria, this email is to inform you that I am still alive and very, very safe in Damascus.  I want to assure everyone who has sent me ‘worried’ emails that fears are unfounded, and I’m going to be very direct for the rest of this message.  It may offend some people but I’m here and the rest of you are not, I’m speaking from experience.

I was speaking with mom last night and she was reading me the stories from the newspapers with comments from people responding to it and this is where a lot of my anger is being driven from.

First of all, Syria is not a shady country.  While the policing system may be more noticeable here than in Canada, that does not make the rest of its citizens “shady.”  I’m using this word in response to a reader who said, “Those who go to shady countries are taking risks.” H e also said that if you go to countries like this, you are just asking for trouble. I ‘m tired of people making judgmental comments about a place they have probably never visited and have never researched.  If you want to believe everything western media tells you, then you area a good candidate for believing in Santa Claus.  And if the only thing you know about Syria is that it is ‘dangerous’, then you need to know the only thing Syrians know about Canada is that it is ‘cold.’

Second, Nicole is a seasoned traveler and anyone who has traveled solo knows there are risks involved.  From what I understand she is a smart traveler, one who lets people know where she’s going.  Anyone who’s been on the road in these regions before knows that there is a community of travelers and locals alike with whom they share stories and experiences.  It is almost impossible to be here and not have others know what you’re up to.  For one, the Arab culture is all about talking with each other, we call this gossip in Canada.  There’s not a lot you can do here without someone commenting or passing it along.  For example, Sonya and I went to Beirut a few weeks ago and pretty much everyone in the tourist quarter knew about it even though we only told one or two people what we were up to.  If Nicole was going somewhere in desert, I guarantee you at least one person knows where she was headed.

Third, anyone who comes to this area knows there are risks but they are not usually the risks Westerners are thinking about.  There is no war in Syria – that is happening next door in Iraq.  There is no imminent threat of war or attack from neighbouring countries such as what is happening in Lebanon.  The risks come from eating dodgey foods or drinking contaminated drinks, from doing drugs, or more simply, crossing the street.

Fourth, what happened to Nicole, whatever that may be, is very very unusual here.  All the Syrians I know are shocked about it, this doesn’t happen here.  Think about Canada and the U.S. where kidnappings or killings happen all the time.  In B.C. a number of women have gone missing on the Similkameen highway in recent years while hitchhiking.  Nothing has been solved.  Think of the recent shootings in Virginia.  For everyone who’s asking us to come home, you’re asking us to come back to an area infinitely more dangerous than the one we’re currently in.  For the record, I have NEVER lived in a safer country, including Canada.  I can walk here, anywhere, anytime, by myself and not feel threatened.  Of course you use your common sense wherever you are in the world and try to avoid potentially difficult situations.  But you can never know for sure what’s going to happen, no matter how much you plan in advance.

The biggest problem I have living here is that most people at home don’t believe it is a safe and good country to live in.  I can’t convince anyone this is true unless they choose to believe it.  No matter how many times I’ve tried telling people I’m OK, some still choose to ignore this.  Again, I am here, you are not.  Believe me when I tell you I value my life and that I would rather live than die.  Because of this I choose places I am comfortable being in.  Maybe they are not the same places others would choose, but some go to Florida and that is one place I have absolutely no desire to visit, precisely because of safety issues.  Believe me when I say the Syrians are going to suffer for this incident because very few people will stand up in their defense.  Tourism is already low here and might go down.  One or two ‘bad’ people affect everyone else and it is a shame for those who take pride in their country and want to show it to foreigners.

In no way am I trying to undermine what has happened to Nicole.  I can’t imagine what her family must be going through and can only hope they have a good support system in Canada that is helping them get through this incredibly difficult time.  I just want to give you peace of mind that if you know someone over here, they are almost 100% safe if they’re being careful.

Good luck to Matt Vienneau and his family as they hope for a happy ending to this sad story.  Updates to the family’s search are on the official website.

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  1. very well said, thanx for that!

  2. Respect!Arnout

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