Growing up in Egypt
Ever wondered what it’s like to grow up in the land of the pyramids? Listen to Hassan’s childhood stories and how he adapted to moving back to Australia at 16-years-old.
Aymen Hassan Interviews Osama Hassan for Stories of Strength
Could you introduce yourself please?
My name is Osama Hassan and I was born on the 31st of August, 1974. And I am currently 43 years old and I live in West Hoxton.
Where were you born?
I was born in the Royal North Shore Hospital in North Sydney.
Describe the place you spent your childhood?
My childhood was spent in a couple of places. Um, I grew up in Werrington in Sydney. Um… the place was [a] suburban suburb close to Penrith area. Um… we used to go to the creeks a lot there and play in the parks a lot, we’d always play in the street with friends.
And the other place that I grew up in — in Werrington I grew up from the ages of — I was born in Sydney and then I lived in Werrington till about the age of six. Then from the age of six till about sixteen, I lived in Cairo. Cairo was one of the places that I spent most of my childhood and early teenage years. Cairo was, um… a beautiful place that I lived in. My childhood was [a] very innocent childhood there.
We used to go and ride horses around the pyramids, [when] I grew older I lived in a building — I lived in a building there. And Cairo was a very, very busy area. I had lots of friends when I used to go to school. The school that I lived in was, um — [we] had a lot of foreigners [at] that school as well. They weren’t just Egyptian kids, we had mixed races from everywhere, from Germany, Bulgaria, Russians, a lot of Russians there. Uh, Polish, Greek, um… there was a lot of Greek friends of mine too, who were actually from Greece and spoke a lot of Arabic.
Um… it was very fun living in Egypt. My — and I remember me and my friend used to always catch public transport going to school and back from school. Um, public transport was a nightmare to catch there, but we used to manage when we were kids. Like, it was always full. Um… we still sometimes were quite naughty, we used to ride the back of the trams. And when we used to go play soccer, I gotta be honest here, we used to play soccer barefeet in the streets of Cairo. So, um, fun memories to remember.
And, um… we used to go across to the neighbour’s house sometimes and steal their mangoes when we were kids [laughs]. So we did have a lot of fun in Egypt, and the place was, was great memories for me.
Describe one significant memory from your childhood.
[Laughs] Oh wow, that’s a good question. The memory I think of, I think, uh… I was coming back from school once, and instead of going to a parent’s house, the next door house was getting built. So we decided to go play in the next door house while it was being built, and we decided to throw rocks and things like that.
So we had this guy who was coming from school as well, so I was standing on a pile of rocks and throwing rocks for him to hit with some kind of pole he had. And, um, silly me, I threw a rock and he hit it and he threw it straight back at my head. And I cut my head open and my parents had to rush me to hospital and stitch up my head. Till today I still remember, and till today… 38 years on, I still have the scar to show it [laughs]. Good one.
Next question. Is there a smell, taste, or image that takes you back to your childhood? Can you describe that for me?
Oh, wow. Ah… a smell that describes the… my childhood. I’m more intent to go back to my days in Egypt when I used to live there. The smell of, I don’t know, dust in the air and mud on the streets. Um, and when it rains there — if it rains there, once every 20 years or so, but when it rained there we kind of remembered it. So, the smell… very dusty.
An image… a very busy country and a lot of people, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget those images of people everywhere, and… they were so, so busy, so… doing something all the time, playing soccer in the park. Just remembering an easy childhood, you know, and a friendly childhood at the time.
Um… more images that I thought about would be, when I was on the streets of Cairo playing soccer [laughs]. I’ll never forget it, we used to build two goals in the middle of the street with rocks, and we’d be playing soccer between the cars. And when a car comes we’d have to stop, move aside, let the cars through, continue our soccer game. And the amount of people that would be walking in the street, I am very sure there is more people walking in the street than cars. Cars are actually afraid of people, people aren’t afraid of cars there.
Um… the other image I have is… they used to hold — some people used to hold these carts. And they’d be pushing [them] selling all types of fruits. And I always used to remember I used to chase this cart cos he used to sell, um, don’t know what it’s called in English. This type of fruit where, it’s from the cactus I think, and it’s very spikey. And they’d sell beans, they’d sell tomatoes, and they’re always pulled by a donkey. A donkey had to pull those carts [laughs].
Um, also, during Ramadan when I was there we’d always listen to the person that would come and wake us up at 4 o’clock in the morning to eat, and I’ll always remember that image. Cos I used to wake up and, you know, scream at him, say ‘Would you let us sleep!’ But I was young, and now I’m older I understand that he was there for a purpose. And also Ramadan, during the night time, like the eating time, all the streets were empty. And those were the images that are still stuck in my head, how all the streets are empty during the eating time of Ramadan.
And night time we used to have something called the wake-up-call to eat, at 4 o’clock in the morning. A guy would come and bang on a little drum to wake up everyone to go and eat, and then go back to sleep. Those were the memories and images that I have of my childhood in Egypt.
Mr Hassan, where do you live now?
I live in… West Hoxton. Um, with my two children, Aymen and Zinedine. Um… nice area, I live in a four bedroom house. I live in a cul-de-sac and, um, my kids love it. I love it. And close to the parks, you know, it’s a nice place.
Mr Hassan, does it feel like home?
Yes it does, it’s very comfortable. It feels like home when, um, you know, all of you guys are here all the time. And, you know, everytime I come home I find youse, you’re here. I do feel comfortable that it’s home, you know, it’s somewhere to rest, somewhere to sleep, and somewhere to be calm.
Mr Hassan, what dreams did you have for your future when you were younger?
Wow, the dreams that I had for my future when I was younger. I think, um, my dreams come late in my teenage years but I don’t think [they came] to me when I was a younger boy. I always wanted to be a chef. I was a very, very good cook, I think I still am. Um… I didn’t get my dream of being a chef, my circumstances took another road for my dreams. But, um, I always wanted to be a chef.
What dreams do you have for your future now?
Ah, the dream I have for my future is to live a comfortable life. The same time, the safety of my kids and the wellbeing of you and Zinedine. Um, as long as you guys are safe and happy, and… uh, me trying to motivate you on achieving your dreams and achieving Zinedine’s dreams. And, just… the more time I spend with you guys and taking you to soccer games, you know, and ensuring you guys are happy and comfortable, that is what I look forward to all the time.
What does strength mean to you?
Ah… strength, um, it means… just to be able to achieve what you can get. Um… and probably teaching you and Zinedine to be strong. To be able to not look at what you want to get, it’s not hard. If you want to achieve something, you will achieve it. That’s what strength means to me. And for me to do the best I can to help you guys reach your goals, um… that will mean strength, as in me protecting my family and protecting my kids.
What is the hardest thing you’ve had to overcome?
I think, Aymen, the hardest thing I’ve had to overcome, and I have overcome it, um, I was… I think I was born here and I think was young when I left Australia the first time. Um… it didn’t make much difference. But I think my second move to Australia when I was about 16 [was the hardest for me to overcome].
Just, um, leaving my friends, you know what I mean? And finding new friends and adapting to a new place. I’ve done that well, um… I… I am successful, you know. Not — just happy that my kids are going to school and I work, you know what I mean? I’ve adapted well, but I think that was my hardest thing to overcome, was just switching my life; from 5-years-old to 16-years-old I was living in Egypt, and then coming here. I think I’ve adapted well.
Mr Hassan, how did you turn that experience into a personal strength?
I think my… how I turned that into — I think, like I said, I adapted well. I found new friends. I stayed in contact with my old friends, and I… built myself to be — to be kind of, um… something I enjoy doing now. I enjoy what I do for work, I enjoy spending time with my children, and I enjoy being comfortable in life. Um… that’s what my strength is.
My strength is me continuing with what I do well and my friendship network, and I’m quite happy with that. That’s what I think. And I’m very open with you and open with Zinedine, and helping you guys with what I can do, and teaching youse what you can see and what you can’t see in life.
What is a quality you love about yourself?
[Laughs] That’s a good question and I think I know it very well. Um, I think the quality I like about myself is that… I am very kind, at the same time I am a workaholic. I do love my job, I do like working a lot, and the more work I get, the more under pressure I am — that’s the quality I love about myself is that I always like to keep busy. And the more work I do, the better I feel. So that’s the quality I like about myself.
Mr Hassan, if you have one piece of advice for your younger self, what would that be?
Aymen, Aymen, Aymen, very, very good question. The piece of advice that I’d give myself when I was younger, I think I have a few of them. Number one is don’t be naughty and don’t listen to people who want to put you down. And I’ll give the perfect example of that. I — first piece of advice I would’ve given, I should never have lit up my first cigarette. Unfortunately I still smoke now, but um, I’m on the mend of giving that up.
The second piece of advice I’d like to give up — I’d like to give myself, sorry, is to work hard. Stick to a goal that you want and look at it. A lot of… especially, you know, the younger generation, they don’t think. Um… they’re — they think there’s still plenty of time. Yes, you do have plenty of time, but the younger you start, the more achievable your goals are going to be.
Um… build on it. Work on it, and the harder you work now the easier it’s going to be, better for you later on. My self — my advice I’d give myself is work harder. The harder, the more work you put in, the more life is going to be easier for you.
What does freedom mean to you? How do you express your freedom?
Freedom means to me, um… being able to do… things that you’ve always wanted. Being able to do — being able to live your dream. Being able to… you know, take your kids places, um, with no boundaries. I mean, in regards to, you know you can take them to here, take them to a different country, take them out. That’s what freedom is to me. At the same time, freedom… happiness, you know? If you’re happy, you’re always going to be free, you know? And the only way to be happy is, um, you have to work hard for it. You’ll always be happy with the more effort you put it into yourself, you’re always going to be happy. No effort, you’re not going to be happy. That’s what I think.
Mr Hassan, what advice can you share with others who may be going through similar experiences that you have overcome? How can you help others recognise their inner strength?
Um… I can help people, you know, overcome their — look, the more time you keep yourself busy with what you love, you’ll always overcome any issues that you might [have]. I think be adaptable, be tolerant, be… um, be happy. Enjoy what you do, um, take things easy. Don’t fight, don’t argue. Um… and how do you get your inner strength?
Work hard. Build on yourself. The more work you put in, and I know I’m saying this again, the more work you put in, you will realise how strong you can be. Um… knowledge is, is… knowledge is very important. The more knowledge you get, um — knowledge is power, you know?
Money is not going to be power for anyone, so if you’re thinking along those lines, no. Knowledge is power, the more you know, the more you understand, the more adaptable you are, the more calm you are. That’s how you’ll find your inner strength.
Alright, thank you Mr Hassan for taking this interview with me. Thank you dad for doing this interview with me, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your day. Thanks Aymen, I hope you enjoy the rest of your day and I hope you will do well in your assignment. I’m sorry I didn’t give you so much input, but hopefully this will be good for you.