"The situation is difficult but there is nothing we can do," says Bayla. "We tell them just a few hours more."
It's not supposed to be this way in Senegal, a country of more than 12 million people where sushi bars dot the seaside capital. Still, most Senegalese live in rural areas, their lives and livelihoods beholden to the right recipe of rain.
Here in the northeast region of Matam, the drought couldn't have come at a worse time. The country is already battling high food prices. And because of the global economic downturn, fewer Senegalese in this region have family members working abroad and sending money back home.
When the rains here came late this year, they were sporadic at best. Crops failed, and the extra food stored for emergencies has been eaten. The next planting season is still months away.
Bayla grew millet and sorghum, while his wife sometimes made 1,000 francs ($2) selling incense. But grain production was down 36 percent over last year across Senegal. And those who want to buy millet after their own crops failed are paying 27 percent more compared to 2011.
"You are faced basically with households that have less of a harvest compared to what they usually have, and they are facing higher prices on the market," said Ingeborg Maria Breuer, Senegal's representative and country director for the U.N. World Food Programme.
On the dusty sand roads that lead to remote villages, goats stand on their hind legs to eat the only vegetation in sight — thorny acacia trees.
The lucky villagers have relatives working in the capital of Dakar, or abroad in Europe. But even work there is harder to find; a job may only last a few months, so the amount trickling back to these rural communities has decreased considerably.
In better times, there was a vegetable garden in Goudoude Diobe, with cabbage and eggplants for a community of nearly 1,300 people. Families grew enough millet, sorghum and corn to feed the village and its 250 children.
Now most here, even the breast-feeding mothers, eat only a bowl of rice once a day. If they are lucky, it is cooked with oil.
What should have been dinnertime already has passed, and now Kadja Dembel Ba calculates that she needs to keep her children busy for at least two more hours.
Today she was lucky. She walked several hours to lug some rice back from the nearby town to her village, Fass, for her seven children.
But as she looks at her 3-year-old son Yaya Feyni, she knows it's not enough. While other boys play outside, he lies on a bed behind his mother, listless and pale. Yaya has always been small compared to his brothers, she says, and now he is sick and won't eat anything.
She tends to him while her 1-year-old son squirms in her lap, as her 5- and 7-year-olds hover nearby.
The family already has sold a cow to buy medicine for her husband, who is sick with a stomach ailment and cannot work. The drugs set the family back some 4,000 francs ($8) — which could have bought them 10 kilograms of rice.
The stress of finding enough food for Kadja Dembel Ba's children seems unending. And by the time this lean season ends in a few months, there will be one more to feed, she says as she touches her pregnant belly.
On good days, the children in Fass will play with their friends until dark in the dusty village. Their stomachs, though, have not forgotten that no dinner was served.
It will be another restless night inside the family's thatched hut. Some of the children cannot sleep, Ba says. They are just too hungry.
Back in Goudoude Diobe, the wailing toddler's mother hopes for a few hours of peace before the night. Tomorrow, there will be no breakfast. There will be only the prayer she says every morning, asking God to help her family and her neighbors.
So far, it has not been answered.
Krista Larson can be reached at www.twitter.com/klarsonafrica.