Rita: a tribute to Boca da Rua’s fighter

Rita’s last message to her friends at Brazilian street paper Boca de Rua, just before being hospitalised, was: “I can’t come to the meeting because I need a bandage on my heart.” No-one really understood what she meant. Maybe she was talking about her chest pain, caused by tuberculosis. When she died, last November, she left everyone at the paper heartbroken. This is their tribute to her.

By Marga Rossal, Boca de Rua

It’s not just models who appear on ad campaigns on the back windows of buses. Rita de Cássia Pereira de Souza – our Boca de Rua colleague – did too. She was right there, with her big smile, in the campaign against tuberculosis and for homeless people’s right to health. Ironically, Rita died of tuberculosis in November 2016.

Photo: Marina Boca de Rua / Agência Alice

Rita always closed her eyes when speaking. If you asked why, she would laugh: “I don’t know, I’ve always done it.” Then Rita closed her eyes and didn’t open them again. Her last message to Boca – shortly before being hospitalised – was: “I can’t come to the meeting because I need a bandage on my heart.” Now the ones needing a bandage on our hearts are us, her colleagues, because we are so sad. She had a big family here at the paper, plus her real family – her partner Lênon and siblings Angelica and Adriano.

Many people knew Rita because she had a lot of customers at the traffic lights at the junction of José do Patricínio and Venâncio Aires. She was restless, talked a lot and liked to recite the poem ‘Interconnected stories’ (see below) for people buying Boca. She was almost always joined by Didi, who also knew poetry by heart.

Photo: Marina Boca de Rua / Agência Alice

Rita shared everything – her favourite meal was rice cooked with lard (which the butcher saved for her) and she had very strange taste, like passion fruit and mango juice with salt. Rita loved her children. She had three children and named the youngest Dale, after D’Alessandro, who played for Brazilian football team Internacional.

Sometimes Rita got angry because she didn’t want to be treated unfairly. At the beginning, she often fought at meetings, but then she started to enjoy them and become quite an important figure who was respected by everyone. She also enjoyed giving interviews about the paper and life on the streets. Because of that, it has been very difficult to accept her loss. It has also been tough for her friends in Praça Garibaldi, where she lived. Because wherever Rita was, no-one was quiet.

Interconnected stories

I awoke early
And looked towards the sky

My story is unique
In the zoom, zoom, zoom
Where I came from
The rats partied
Beside the filthy sewer
Putrid open water

But now I work with people
and communities on the edges
The homeless are
Writing their own story
And Boca de Rua
Preserving the memories
Of taunts on the tarmac
At the traffic lights
Living on the streets is no game
Respect, justice and peace
We will find
Boca de Rua
Looking for revolution!!!

(Verses of poem written by Déko Ramires, educator with the EcolSol PopRua project, and recited by Rita and her friend Didi to customers at the traffic lights).

Translated from Portuguese by Ali Walker

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