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Vendor Profile: Discouraged at 14, now a published poet

Wed, Feb 13, 2013

Pilar Ferreira. Photo: Ricardo Senra

Pilar Ferreira, 42, sells Ocas in São Paulo, Brazil. Pilar grew up working alongside her mother, cleaning properties in some of Brazil’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

“I was 8 years old when I started to get into writing. I read Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves and decided to write a story. My mother’s boss came into my room, saw my papers on the floor and said that I was writing too much. From then on, she made sure to keep me busy. She made me wash dishes that were already clean. She said that to write was to laze about and that it was time for me to get a job.”

“She tore everything up, said ‘get to work, blackie, you’re aiming too high’. This phrase has haunted me all my life. Today, every time I take part in a literary project, a recital, I remember this. It was complete nonsense.”

Pilar landed her first paid cleaning job at 14, so education was never an option for her. It wasn’t until she enrolled in a basic education course for deprived adults that she got some college experience, but finding secure employment remained a battle. Money was always running out and she was eventually evicted from her home.

One day, after leaving yet another unsuccessful job interview, Pilar broke down in the doorway of the Museum of Art of São Paulo and cried. Suddenly, she spotted a man with a bundle of magazines under his arm.

“I saw him selling magazines so I went over and asked him how I could get a job like that. He told me about the street paper and I said to him, ‘but I don’t live on the streets.’ He replied: ‘But soon you will.’ And he was right. I no longer had any money in my purse and I hadn’t even realized it.”

Together they went to the Ocas office, where Pilar received her orange vest and a pack of 10 magazines. It was a Monday morning. On Wednesday she went back for more.

“There were periods where I didn’t stop working until 1 in the morning. I had to make the most of the people coming out of the cinema and theatre. Selling the magazine, I meet artists, actors, singers and lots of very nice people. I show them my poems. They often give me free tickets for shows, invitations to plays. All of this keeps me going.”

Writing has remained her greatest passion. Following the publication of her poems in Ocas, she published a book, Unacademic Words. “I didn’t go to university, but living on the streets inspired me to write it.”

After eight years of selling Ocas, Pilar has managed to rent the house that she lives in today, with her children. “Ocas has turned my life around. We have money to eat and pay the bills, which is the most important thing. I hope that one day I can buy my own place.”

Written by Ricardo Senra,
International Network of Street Papers

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