It took the death of Fatime’s baby cousin from malnutrition for her father to finally give her mother the permission to make a second, 1.5-hour journey to the clinic.
By the time Fatime made it to the clinic the second time, she didn’t look much bigger than a fetus. Zara Seid kept her daughter wrapped in a cloth, as if embarrassed to show her body, the frightening sight of a child on the knife’s edge of starvation.
Her head is bald except for a few tufts of hair. Her mouth is infected with lesions, and stained purple with the antifungal wash the nurses use daily. When she tries to drink formula, she coughs until her tiny, doll-like chest heaves.
Her legs are insect-like, unable to hold her up. They dangle, lifeless. Her arms are no bigger than a shower rod.
Flies are attracted to her, as if she is already dead. They land on her face and crawl in and out of the corners of her eyes.
These mistakes lead here, to a set of humps in the sand. There’s a burial ground in every village in this part of Chad, including in Djiguere, where Fatime’s cousin lies under the newest hump of sand.
The big mounds are where the adults are buried. But the majority of the piles in the cemetery are small. Some are no larger than a loaf of bread.
Fatime may or may not make it. In the week since she arrived at the feeding center, she’s gained 200 grams (7 ounces).
At home in the village, her father, Mahamat Ibrahim, says he has no regrets about having had his daughter’s teeth extracted. Bad teeth are to blame for a child not growing, he says.
‘‘This is something that everyone here knows,’’ he says. ‘‘It’s only the doctors at these foreign hospitals that don’t know this. And that’s why we avoid taking our children there.’’
His youngest child is five months old. In a few weeks, her baby teeth will start coming in.
If she falls sick, he plans to take her to the healer to yank them out.