Rozana McGrattan discusses her memoir, Street Girl

Interview with Rozana McGrattan – Street Girl

I guess we should start by saying that Street Girl certainly isn’t for the feint hearted, is it?

No, not really. It’s a tough story about a hard life, but it comes good in the end. I’m hoping it will be inspirational for many readers, particularly women readers. I’m sure many of them will be able to identify with some of the things I went through.

With this story being a memoir, and particularly one with such sensitive material, did you find it difficult to write?

Yes, there was a lot of soul-searching during the writing process. I awakened many ghosts from the past that I had put to the back of my mind. However, writing the book helped me to exorcise those demons and, in the end, it was very therapeutic.

When you first finished your manuscript and you read it back, did you ever try talking yourself out of showing it to other people?

Lots of times. Even now I’m asking myself if it’s the right thing to do. It’s not that I’m scared of what’s in the book itself, but how it will be received. Will people judge me harshly? Will they understand?

How would you sum up the life of a child living on the streets of Sao Paulo, for example, having experienced it first hand?

It’s a miserable life. All they know is hunger and fear, day in and day out. They expect nothing else. I was lucky in a way, because I had family. Even if my family couldn’t help me, I knew they were there. Many of these children are born on the streets and they have no support of any kind. They have no hope. Let’s hope this book may do something to improve their lives.

The Olympics will be hosted in Brazil this summer. How will it make you feel to see Brazil portrayed as a glamorous and idyllic holiday destination to the rest of the world?

To be honest, Brazil is constantly portrayed as a glamorous place, not just for the Olympics. If you watched Brazilian television, you would think everyone in the country was rich and glamorous. It’s just the way the culture is. What makes me sad is that a lot of money will be spent on the Olympics while millions of ordinary people don’t have decent housing or enough food on their tables.

You once spoke about Brazil having a flawed code of morals and mistaken notions of success. Can you elaborate on that?

Brazilians judge people by appearances. You have to have nice clothes and a good car and live in a respectable area to be considered a “good” person. It’s like in Hollywood, a “look at me” society. It’s what you have, not who you are. Real morals are based on how you treat people who aren’t as well off as yourself. I’m afraid Brazil is lacking in that respect. It’s especially ironic as Catholicism plays such a large part in Brazilian life, yet simple Christian morals don’t.

Given everything you’ve gone through, do you hold any resentment towards your native country?

No. Definitely not. Brazil is a very beautiful country and most of the ordinary people are honest and hardworking. If, one day, we manage to elect honest and hardworking politicians, then I think we stand a chance of becoming a great nation. Ultimately, Brazil made me what I am today, and I go back every year to renew myself.

What steps do you feel can be taken to lessen the gulf between the rich and the poor?

That question can increasingly apply to any country, even Britain. In Brazil, the first thing that has to stop is corruption. Then they have to invest more money in education and less in prisons. The Brazilian psyche is very passive when it comes to criticising people in power. In my opinion, there’s a long way to go before the gap between rich and poor starts to lessen.

You are now the mother of two beautiful children. Do you ever worry about what they might think of this book when they’re older?

No, I don’t worry about that. I have always spoken to my children about my past. We have a very open relationship, where we can talk anything through. If anything, this book will make them appreciate what they have today.

Within the book, you have written what you like to call “Street Poetry.” Is this something you created as a form of escapism when life was particularly tough?

My poetry was always a means of escape. I used to put my sadness into it. When I was very alone, my poetry kept me company. I could take out my deepest emotions and beliefs and express myself on paper. Even today, I still write poetry when I need to make sense of something that’s not immediately obvious.
We would like to thank Rozana for her time, and sincerely hope her story goes some way to preventing other street boys and street girls from having to tread such a horrific pathway in their search for happiness.