15 JUNE 2009
Odette Salem was a mother whose two children disappeared during the Lebanese civil war. For twenty-four
years, night and day, she looked for them everywhere. Like 17,000 others, no one would account for them. Politicians
from varied factions initially paid lip service, then they stopped bothering. Only Odette kept waiting for her son
and daughter to come home. She kept their rooms untouched to remind her of their scent. She never changed the linen to
preserve their touch. She even cooked their favourite meals just in case they suddenly showed up -- hungry and
nostalgic for Mamma's food.
She joined other helpless, desperate mothers. They stood vigil outside U.N. Headquarters in Beirut asking anyone who
would listen for help. Gracious, polite, even shy, they held photographs of loved ones -- sometimes waving them, often
hugging them close to their hearts. It was not their tears that broke one's heart; it was their inquisitive longing
expectant stare. Any U.N. visitor was considered a potential source of help, those important people -- the destitute
mothers thought -- will have a clue. On one occasion, they managed to meet an amenable U.N. Secretary General (Kofi
It was the Under-Secretaries General who were more difficult.
A mother's heart is an infinite treasure. Odette hugged me just because I mentioned her children's names. "Don't
forget them," she pleaded.
Odette was still waiting at that same street corner when a speeding car hit her in the dark. Her death passed
unnoticed. Only other desperate mothers in a desolate tent missed her.
Odette is no longer there to flag the names of Richard and Christina. Salem. We will.