Ann Davenport

Profile “Delia Susana”

Delia  Susana       When   I   met   Delia   Susana   three   years   ago,   I   was   immediately   attracted   to   her   deep   brown   eyes   -­‐   as   deep   as   a   night   sky   in   Patagonia   –   and   her   quick   wit.   She   is   tall   for   a   Chilean,   and   attributes   this   to   having   Mapuche   Indian   ancestors   and   growing   up   in   the   fresh   air   of   farmlands  and  small  fishing  villages  along  the  central  coast  of  Chile  in  the  1950’s  and  60’s.  She   used   to   like   to   swim   in   the   ocean;   liked   the   feeling   of   being   overwhelmed   by   the   tide   and   waves  as  they  sucked  her  feet  out  from  under  her  and  the  salt  water  rushed  up  her  nose.   Delia  Susana  graduated  in  the  top  2%  of  her  midwifery  class  at  the  University  of  Chile   in   1972.     She   was   practicing   midwifery   in   one   of   the   largest   hospitals   in   Santiago   when,   in   October  of  1978,  her  life  was  sucked  out  from  under  her.    She  had  been  marching  with  her   medical   colleagues:   hundreds   of   doctors,   nurses   and   midwives   were   protesting   Pinochet’s   health   policies   through   downtown   Santiago   in   the   middle   of   a   bright   Sunday   afternoon.   Suddenly,  she  was  swept  away  by  a  water  cannon,  a  blast  of  water  up  her  nose  and  mouth,   sucking  her  breath  away,  choking  her.  She  was  washed  into  a  storefront  window,  where  two   military  men  hauled  her  up,  picked  some  glass  out  of  her  hair,  handcuffed  her,  and  tossed  her   into  the  back  of  the  police  truck  with  other  soggy  and  sobbing  demonstrators.   “It  all  happened  so  fast,”  she  said  to  me,  “we  were  all  singing,  and  that’s  probably  why   nobody   heard   the   trucks   coming.   We   saw   the   police   on   horseback,   but   nobody   saw   that   water  canon.  It  was  just  unthinkable.”  She  remembers  the  smell  of  sweat  from  the  horses  and   1

Ann Davenport

Profile “Delia Susana”

the  police  men,  remembers  thinking  how  funny  it  seemed  to  smell  like  the  blood  of  childbirth,   too.     “I  looked  around  at  the  people  in  the  back  of  the  police  truck  and  they  were  all  staring   at  me.  The  blood  I  smelled  was  my  own,  from  the  glass  being  broken  on  that  store  window.   My   neck   was   bleeding   and   my   arms.   I   didn’t   even   feel   that,   can   you   imagine?”   she   asked,   still   slowly   shaking   her   head   in   disbelief,   all   these   years   later.   We   were   shucking   oysters   fresh   from  an  underwater  farm  in  the  little  fishing  village  of  Horcón,  up  the  coast  from  Valparaiso.   We   had   the   salty   wind   in   our   hair   and   face,   concentrating   on   cracking   open   those   locked   treasures.  She  wouldn’t  look  up  at  me,  just  focused  on  the  task  at  hand  while  telling  her  story.   “All   the   people   in   the   back   of   the   police   truck   were   taken   to   the   national   stadium,   where  me  and  the  other  women  were  segregated  from  the  men,”  she  said.  They  were  strip-­‐ searched,   given   their   clothes   back   smelling   of   insect   repellent,   then   fingerprinted,   photographed,  and  put  into  a  small  room.    Three  women  per  room  had  three  army  cots  -­‐  no   sheets,   no   pillows,   no   toilet,   no   sink.   No   one   to   talk   to   or   ask,   “what   happened?”   except   each   other.     Most   of   the   time   was   spent   in   silent   shock,   or   weeping   into   their   hands.   They   all   assumed   they   would   be   there   overnight   then   allowed   to   go   home,   to   go   back   to   their   shift   at   the  hospital  the  next  day.       But  the  next  day,  Delia  Susana  was  transferred  to  another  place,  in  the  middle  of  the   night,  in  the  back  of  an  army  vehicle  with  blacked-­‐out  windows,  and  this  time  she  knew  it  was   not   going   to   be   just   overnight.     She   lived   in   that   compound   for   the   next   13   months.     She   was   kept  there  to  do  prenatal  care  for  the  pregnant  prisoners  and  attend  their  births  –  if  the  guard   on   duty   was   sleeping   and   didn’t   give   a   woman   wailing   in   labor   enough   consideration   to   2

Ann Davenport

Profile “Delia Susana”

transfer  her  to  the  hospital  on  time.    In  those  13  months,  Delia  Susana  had  a  lot  of  practice   with   pregnancy   and   childbirth.   As   for   newborn   care   –   the   female   guards   always   took   the   babies  away  the  next  day.     Because   of   an   international   treaty   between   countries,   established   after   the   Geneva  

Convention  with  the  United  Nations,  people  who  are  considered  “political  prisoners”  can  be   transferred  to  host  countries  as  refugees  during  times  of  crises.    This  treaty  was  unknown  to   Delia  Susana  and  the  other  prisoners.  One  warm  South  American  summer  night  in  1979,  Delia   Susana   found   herself   on   board   a   plane,   with   9   other   women   from   the   prison,   not   knowing   where  they  were  going  or  why.    They  had  heard  rumors  of  political  prisoners  from  Argentina   being  thrown  from  low  flying  aircraft,  alive,  into  the  sea.       “We   were   all   crying   and   praying   softly   together,”   she   said,     “until   we   fell   into   an   exhausted   sleep,   holding   onto   each   other.   That   was   all   we   could   do   against   that   terrible,   black,  unknown  fear.”       Twelve  hours  later,  in  their  summer  dresses,  no  luggage,  each  with  a  passport  that  had   “Terrorist”  stamped   in   red   ink   across   their  photo,   they   disembarked   onto   the   freezing   tarmac   and  north  sea  winds  of  London  in  November.     It   took   her   about   a   year   to   learn   English,   and   she   worked   toward   validating   her  

midwifery   degree   from   Oxford   University   while   attending   pregnant   immigrant   women   in   a   large   public   hospital.     She   subsequently   became   involved   with   a   British   missionary   group   going   to   Esteli,   Nicaragua,   helping   the   Sandinista   government   establish   health   clinics   and   programs.    She  fell  in  love  with  that  work,  with  the  people  of  Nicaragua,  and  with  a  handsome  

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Ann Davenport

Profile “Delia Susana”

Mexican   agricultural   engineer   working   there,   too.     Delia   Susana   felt   like   she   was   on   a   solid   shore,  at  last.    In  the  rural  provinces  she  worked  with  the  few  men  that  were  left  to  construct  health   posts,   trained   the   only   4   doctors   and   nurses   there   in   emergency   obstetric   and   prevention,   and   worked   with   the   traditional   midwives   in   the   surrounding   villages,   convincing   them   to   bring  their  clients  to  the  health  post.    The  pregnant  women  were  terrified  to  travel  anywhere   because   of   the   war,   in   labor   or   not.     She   lived   in   Esteli   from   1981   to   1989,   until   the   Sandinistas  lost  the  elections.    Meanwhile,  Pinochet  had  lost  his  elections  as  well,  and  in  1991   –  after  losing  her  husband  to  brain  cancer  –  she  and  her  son  returned  to  Chile.  She  works  as   the  midwife  in  charge  of  a  Public  Primary  Care  center  in  Viña  del  Mar,  right  next  to  the  most   expensive  beachfront  property  in  all  Chile.  But,  she  doesn’t  go  to  that  beach.   She   likes   to   take   weekends   off   with   her   son   and   go   to   the   little   fishing   village   of   Horcón,   a   two-­‐hour   drive   north.   They   eat   fresh   mussels   and   clams,   and   wade   into   the   cool   water  on  a  hot  summer  day.     “I   don’t   go   into   the   bay   much   further   than   ankle   deep,   now,”   she   tells   me,   cracking   open   another   crusty   shell,   looking   off   over   the   water,   “I   don’t   like   getting   my   feet   sucked   out   from  under  me.      

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