Our vendors: Gamal (The Big Issue Australia, Melbourne, Australia)

By Anastasia Safioleas, The Big Issue Australia

I’m Egyptian. I grew up in a big family in Cairo: five brothers and one sister. All of them were educated. My dad was educated. My mum didn’t go to school, but she was a very wise lady. Until I went to university I was very happy, but for some reason I started to smoke, and my mum got upset. I was going with bad people, in the wrong direction. She told me in Arabic, “If you go in the wrong direction, sooner or later you will get bad results.” After a while I understood what she said, and I decided to not have any contact with those people. I studied well and got my degree. I have a degree in maths. But my mum was still worried and she advised my brother in Melbourne to sponsor me. Later on, he sent me a ticket and I arrived here. It was 1987.

I loved my mum. I loved my dad. I love my brother. He’s a doctor. When I arrived, he gave me a book called The Power of Your Subconscious Mind. It helped me a lot. I had chronic anxiety. I had two other brothers here, but one died about four years ago. Back in Egypt I have one sister, who is a doctor, and one brother, who is high up in the army. My mum and dad have died.

I liked Melbourne when I first arrived. People were kind and honest, you know. I worked in a factory doing machine work. After that I worked in a company with computers. I was a computer tester. The manager was very good but had to retrain me. I had nothing else to do, so I started out as a taxi driver. It was alright being a taxi driver. I didn’t complain. I had to be positive. I know the streets of Melbourne very well.

Photo by James Braund

I’m divorced. My wife is in Egypt. I have two sons. One is married now and has a little girl. My other son was working in Saudi Arabia as an English teacher but has now gone back to Egypt. We talk on the phone. I’m going back to Egypt next month for a holiday.

Ten years ago, someone told me about The Big Issue. A friend. He was a vendor. He told me that it was a good thing [and that I should] get involved. I’ve been a vendor, on and off, since then.

Every day I’m at Degraves. I have customers who stop and have a chat. I have a good attitude with the customers. I love my customers and I respect them. I call them ‘Young man’ or ‘Young lady’, and most of them like it. The cafes on Degraves Street help me a lot. About five shops give me hot milk. And I’m very happy [about that]. It makes me feel great.

When I’m not selling the magazine, I visit my cousin and brother and talk about religion and politics. Sometimes I watch soccer. Sometimes I watch football on the TV. I barrack for St Kilda because my niece supports St Kilda. She loves me!

The money I make from The Big Issue makes a difference. It does. I can go shopping, buy clothes… I want to keep selling The Big Issue. I’m very happy.