10 November 2013
Photograph by James Braund
"My father is Aboriginal and my mum is Egyptian. Everyone says it’s the weirdest combination! They met at a party in Canberra – that’s where I’m originally from. Their eyes met, they spoke, they had a dance. It’s very romantic. They had six kids.
My father passed away when I was 11. He’d been very sick for years – liver failure, diabetes, heart problems and arthritis. When he died, we all lost it. Mum had a broken heart. She couldn’t cope. I was a bit of a rebel and I stopped going to school.
After a while I got tired of Canberra; some of my family had left by then, anyway. I ended up travelling around Australia when I was about 18 and later I settled in Victoria. Mum is back in Egypt now. I still talk to her when I can. It’s terrible there at the moment – I’m stressing hardcore because she’s an old lady now.
I’ve had lots of health problems. I’ve got bad asthma and back problems. I’ve had severe pneumonia several times. Pneumonia is scary, but I dare say the scariest thing I’ve ever got is throat cancer. They did an operation and I’m okay now.
But because of all my sicknesses, I’m on a lot of medications. Some of them clash, and I do suffer [from] muscle spasms. I can’t help that and I hope people understand that I’m not doing it on purpose! It’s actually getting sorted now, and it’s better than it used to be.
On and off during my life I have suffered homelessness. Before I started selling The Big Issue about two years ago, I used to [try to get by] begging. It was fine for a long time, but then suddenly there was an influx of beggars everywhere. The cops started getting annoyed and cracking down on it. I got so sick and tired of it, too.
I’ve finally got a place to live now, after years of being on the list for housing. My place is covered in books. I’ve always loved reading and writing. At school I won a prize for reading the most books at the school library. As a kid, I loved The BFG (Big Friendly Giant) and others by Roald Dahl, but later I got into Edgar Allen Poe and I started reading lots of other stuff.
I love to write, too. I write in the morning and in the evenings – a couple of hours every day. Right now I’m writing two stories: one is about my life; the other is a horror story!
Selling The Big Issue is so much better than begging because you don’t get harassed and you don’t feel like you’re just taking people’s money for nothing. Believe it or not, I did feel bad about it. I’m actually giving back to the community now. It’s good for my self-esteem. Before, I didn’t care about things but I do care now. I care about myself and I’m selling and it’s good."
Interview by by Sophie Quick/photograph by James Braund
Heba sells The Big Issue at Melbourne Central on Elizabeth Street, Melbourne CBD