p r o l o g u e
Inez Rivero Borges’s one- room home in El Cocal has a green plastic roof and
open walls on three sides, and is perched on stilts above the mud bordering a
broad river. This is where she sits with her infant daughter to recount, over the
span of forty- five minutes, the details of the mysterious deaths of her two sons,
Jesús, age three, and Lizandro, age five (figure P.1). She is thirty- seven years old
and has been married for a quarter century to Darío Garay Mata. She has given
birth to twelve children, but only five are still alive. The infant girl she is now
nursing will soon fall ill. She is one of scores of parents who moved frenetically
from one caregiver to another in a desperate search to save their children, only
to end up traveling to the cemetery— sometimes, as with Inez Rivero, over and
over. They passed along their observations to anyone who would listen; they of-
fered to collaborate in figuring out what was causing the mysterious epidemic.
But even after the dying ended, their search for answers went on. They continue
to demand, thinking both of their own children and many others, “Tell me why
my children died.”
First, Jesús “developed a fever out of the blue” in mid- March 2008. On the
second day, when the fever grew intense, Inez said, “I went to my mother and
told her, ‘I just don’t like it. Even though his fever is not high, I don’t like the
look of his eyes.’ His eyes had changed color. His eyes weren’t the same.” When
Jesús tried to swallow some acetaminophen in liquid form, “it didn’t work for
him; he felt like he was drowning.” He swallowed a bit, “but then his eyes
looked like they were crossed. His hands were stiff, like he was already going
to die.” By the third day, at times “he became immobile, as if he were asleep.
When he was asleep, his legs kept moving.” He was having trou ble walking,
and he fell a number of times. Soon, Jesús could no longer swallow food. Held
tightly in his mother’s hammock all night, he tossed and turned; whenever he
started to fall asleep, he had strange dreams. “We didn’t sleep at all that night.”
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