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Sun-Herald

You'recalled what?

Author: Sacha Molitorisz
Date: 08/02/2009
Words: 792
Source: SHD
          Publication: Sun Herald
Section: Extra
Page: 6
This talented actor is used to joking about his first name being Osamah.

Osamah Sami is used to copping flak for his name. As he says, being named Osamah in the 2000s is like being named Adolf in the 1950s.

"I use my name as a joke all the time," Sami says. "But my dad was called Abu Osamah before I was born, so he had to name me Osamah. 'Abu' means 'father of', and that's the Iraqi tradition.

"'Bin' means 'son of'. So I'm Osamah bin Sami, because my dad's name is Sami."

Truth is, Osama bin Laden has had little effect on Osamah bin Sami's life. Saddam Hussein, however, has had a huge effect. First, the late Iraqi despot nearly executed Sami's dad; then he spurred Sami's family to emigrate to Australia; more recently, he has provided artistic inspiration.

In a new play at Belvoir Street theatre, Sami plays two Iraqi characters deeply affected by Saddam: a critic and an insurgent.

"The play jumps back and forth in time over six or seven years, between London and Baghdad," says the director of Baghdad Wedding, Geordie Brookman.

The central character is an Iraqi who has moved from Baghdad to London, where he follows the upheavals in his homeland as he experiments with sex, drugs and other Western possibilities. It received impressive reviews on its premiere at London's Soho Theatre in 2007.

"It's a really interesting angle on the conflict in Iraq," says Brookman, who is working with a script by Hassan Abdulrazzak, who fled Iraq for England to become a scientist and playwright.

"We get flooded with a highly Western perspective on the conflict but this is from an Iraqi emigre's perspective. Hassan looks at what conflict can do and how it affects people on a personal level."

Osamah Sami's life illustrates how events in Iraq can affect people on a personal level.

"I was actually born in Iran but my parents are Iraqis. My grandmother on my mum's side is Kurdish, so my mum and grandma and everyone was deported as soon as Saddam took power [in 1979]. It was ethnic cleansing, where all the Kurds were deported to the border of Iran and Iraq.

"My dad had another story. He was going to be taken care of by Saddam - to be executed - but he and a few friends did a prison break and had to swim over the border and went to Iran. That's where my mum and dad met.

"Then the Iran-Iraq war started [in 1980] and I was born in 1983. Dad served in the Iran army 'til the war ended [in 1988]. In 1995 we came to Melbourne."

Arriving in Australia as a 12-year-old, Sami found the adjustment difficult, largely because he didn't speak English.

"The first couple of years were really bad," says Sami, now 26. "At high school I sat there not understanding a single word. After two years, we all got our Australian citizenship and went back to Iran, and I had a blast there because I met up with my mates. But then the second time I went back I felt like a foreigner coming to Iran as a visitor. All of a sudden Iran was an ex-mum, not the real mum. I walked around Iran after two months, thinking, 'I want to go home."'

Sami has been back to Iran three times but not to Iraq. These days, his father is a Shia leader in Melbourne who also writes plays, including The Trial Of Saddam.

"We came to Sydney to do it in Bankstown and we got very good numbers," Sami says. "Then we did three shows in Melbourne, then we went to do it in Kuwait and Bahrain, and then we took it to America. But unfortunately we got deported from the airport."

Four years on, Sami laughs about being sent home by Uncle Sam.

"They deemed us unfit to enter the United States of America. I mean, we're a bunch of Arabs, my name's Osamah, the issue of terrorism was very hot and there I was playing Saddam. The play was a comedy but they didn't get it.

"Basically we were interrogated for nearly a day, each of us on our own, and then we were told to piss off and go back to Aussie. They said, 'You're far too organised to be a theatre company."'

While performing in The Trial Of Saddam, Sami discovered a large community of Iraqi-Australians hungry to see plays about Iraq. He is confident they'll support Baghdad Wedding, too.

"Although Iraqis are a bit slack about coming to the city," he says. "We were talking to a few who said, 'Oh, couldn't you just have it in Fairfield?"'

 
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