Oral History Interview - Felicia Okpala

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Audio file


Oral History Interview - Felicia Okpala


Digital file (.mp3)


Audio recording of an oral history interview with Felicia Okpala, born 1952 Onitsha, Nigeria.


[Transcript of interview with Felicia Okpala]

Q. I'm going to ask you when and where you were born? [00:10]

Felicia Okpala (FO). Yeah. I was born in Nigeria and I brought up in Nigeria. There’s a town called Onitsha, that’s where I was born, brought up at Onitsha.

Q. Is that in the town or in a country? [00:33]

FO. Town. After the Nigerian War, Nigerian-Biafran War, then I came to Lagos. Yeah, then from Lagos to this place.

Q. When did you come to this country? [00:53]

FO. I came in to this country to…I used to come every month, because I have my husband - my late husband that’s him there. He’s dead now. Have you seen him?

Q. Yeah. [01:12]

FO. He was a student here, so I used to come and visit him, buy things go back and sell, sort of running like a mini-business. In 1976, we decided we're going to get married and be together. That's when I decided to be with him in this country. I came in, again finally 1976 December, November actually, then we went to a church and registered for marriage.

Q. You got married here? [02:05]

FO. Yes. I got married here, the registry and a white wedding, both of them I did them here.

Q. In the church or? [02:17]

FO. I did the registry, I think, 1976 December, night, yeah. Then I did, the church one in 1979.

Q. Was that in Hackney or another? [02:45]

FO. No, it is in South East -- South East, Walworth Road. Do you know Walworth Road? East street.

Q. Walworth Road, yes. [02:57].

FO. Yeah, there.

Q. When did you come to live in Hackney? [03:01]

FO. Then we went back to Nigeria for good and this didn't work out well, you know. Then I came back in Hackney in 1984, so since 1985, you know, I’ve been here.

Q. You’ve been here. In this house? [03:28]

FO. No. First of all, when we returned from Nigeria we stayed in 10 Rushmore Road in, you know, Clapton Pond. Then from there, council gave us a place in there Latimer (?) Road in Stoke Newington, then from there we came here in 1986. So, since 1986, I’ve been in this house.

Q. Do you go back to Nigeria? Because your daughter was telling me you went back with her. [04:13]

FO. Yeah, we go to, like as I said, my daughter and my son, they are in Nigeria now. My son is coming back tomorrow. He's leaving this night, so come back tomorrow. My daughter is still there. She’ll come back I think next week, next weekend she’s coming back. I go to Nigeria frequently. I love Nigeria. I go at least once every year, but I would love to go more than that there, because of their problem we have over there and, over here it’s too…financial problem.

Q. If it were, would you like to live in Nigeria if things get easier over there? [05:09]

FO. Oh yeah, I would like to live in Nigeria.

Q. Why is that? [05:12]

FO. Why, because that's where I have relations. Even though, I have all my children here, I have all my relations, my sisters, my brother, you know, and I'm the oldest in the family now. This is my senior brother that died yesterday. Now I'm the oldest in the family. We're eight in the family four boys and four girls, so that now we are four girls and two boys, because two has gone. If I go home now, all of them, they would be pampering me, treating me like a queen, looking after me, you know. The doctor said, my children they look after me they are good, because as soon as we get this news yesterday they all came.

Q. That’s fantastic. [06:19]

FO. Yeah.

Q. Well, Nwakaego was saying that family is most important to her. [06:23]

FO. Yeah very, very, yeah and my daughter in Nigeria calling you know, telling how the junior one ought to be doing, how to be looking after me, telling me not to go out, because I have no strength to go out yeah.

Q. Where is home? Is home Hackney or Nigeria? [06:51]

FO. Well for me home is in Nigeria, for them home is in Hackney.

Q. But for you. [06:59]

FO. But for me, home is in Nigeria. Do you understand?

Q. Yes. Why is that? [07:06]

FO. It is because I was brought up there and that's where I have you know, all the rest of my family, they are there, I only have my children in this country. My sister, my sister is here and my brother is here as well, but still I see Nigeria as my home.

Q. Is that because your parents and your grandparents and your…? [07:41]

FO. Everybody. Everybody is there.

Q. Your roots are there? [07:45]

FO. Yeah.

Q. Is that important to you? [07:49]

FO. Very, very important.

Q. Why? [07:50]

FO. Yeah because that's where my life beginning. That's where my life beginning and that’s where I’m free. Many things you can do there and get away, you can’t do it here and get away.

Q. Such as? [08:08]

FO. Such as like, I can go to my friend’s house in Nigeria, we can say, like the other day my son, the one in Nigeria now, he turned to be 30, and they all came here to do party in my garden, and the neighbours, they called council they called police, you know, even though, I told him, you know, low down the music, because of mobile, because when I'm doing things like that, I involve my neighbours, you know, I let them know, for respect, please, I hope you won’t mind. They're going to be you know, noisy night tonight; but in this case, my children, they didn't even tell me that they are coming to do the party. They said, if they tell me, I will not accept that. I may say no. They just have their things.

Q. You didn’t have time to warn the neighbours? [09:20]

FO. If it is in Nigeria you can do it whenever, all neighbours will do this, they will come and join, they will come and you know join in, you know, because they see everyone being decent or being family; but over here, it is not like that. It's not like that, so there's a lot you cannot do in this country. There’s a lot you cannot do in this country.
Like in Nigeria, there's a time I went there and I wanted to just have some friends around or relations around, I just tell my sister, kill one goat, cook food, let's just stay in your compound and neighbours started coming in, you know, come into enjoy with us.

You didn’t tell me your sister came back, you know, this Sunday, you know and so yeah, please feel free. What do you want to drink? You know, so I enjoy things like that. That's why we are talking about culture. We have culture. Our culture back home and the culture over here, is completely different, it is not the same, its not the same.

Q. It’s easier to be in Nigeria? [10:56]

FO. Easier.

Q. It is easier to be, would you say also it was easier to be amongst your own people, if that's the right way of saying it? [11:04]

FO. No, no, no. It's good to be with everybody; but when I'm with them, I feel much relaxed. When I'm in my community, I feel more relaxed, you know. Like my daughter and my son, oh, they say, “no mom, it’s fun, it’s really fun they like it,” you know. My son will be going back to work on Friday, on Thursday and he said, “Oh Mom, I'm coming back.” I said, “well, you have to come. This is where you come to make the money and you go over there to spend the money. You haven't got job there to keep you over there,” you know, so that’s it. Yeah.

Q. I know we've had a lot of discussion about your culture, but it's important to you isn’t it? [12:08]

FO. Oh, yes, very, very important to me.

Q. How do you, so I was talking to this -- to your daughter about this and I asked her how she was able to keep that sort of culture in Hackney and she said, “well it is easy, because there are lots of African people.” [12:27]

FO. Right here, yeah.

Q. You're saying that it's easier over there, but how do you manage to keep bits of it here? [12:34]

FO. You got what I am saying, this is where they know, do you understand?

Q. Yeah. [12:37]

FO. Because they all they were born and brought up here; but I was born and brought up there, I just come here to live, so more of that culture is me, is in me than as them, so that’s it, yeah.

Q. Great. Well, I think I’ve -- yeah what are you proud of? [13:04]

FO. I'm proud of being who I am. I'm proud of being a Nigerian. I'm proud of being an African woman. I'm proud of being, you know, I'm proud of our faith, our culture. I am, you know. I'm not ashamed of where I come from. No. I'm so proud to be a Nigerian, to be an African woman, to be who I am.

Q. That was a lovely answer. [13:42]

FO. Thank you.

Q. I know we've talked about what, you know, we talked about objects that we might put on display. [13:54]

FO. I'm sure you want now.

Q. Yeah, lovely, thank you. [13:57]

FO. You know you were talking about mortar.

Q. Yes. [14:01]

FO. Yes, I said to you, I’ve got ---

Q. A pestle and mortar. Why is that -- [14:09]

FO. Yeah. I’ve got it and I’ve got big, I will show it to them, but I used to cook for people in my community when they had party, I used to cook for them. I have things I used to cook with, you know. They are there.

Q. Food and cooking that's important to you? [14:31]

FO. Yes. Yeah, I love cooking. I used to make food for people. Not for money, you know. Now, I cannot get to do them anymore. One, age; two, my legs. Yeah. My hobby, before my hobby is to make the food, especially African food. Yeah. Even in the Hackney College years ago, I used to teach African food. Yeah.

Q. Did you? [15:19]

FO. Yes.

Q. To whom? [15:22]

FO. To disabled students.

Q. From Africa or from other? [15:29]

FO. No, no, no from Hackney College.

Q. Yes. But who were the students -- where were the students from? [15:35]

FO. All over, whoever that wanted to ---

Q. Whoever that wanted to yeah --- [15:40]

FO. Involved.

Q. Wonderful. [15:42]

FO. In North London projects in Stoke Newington. This is in 1987 or 1989, from 1987 to 1989.

Q. Well, that's fantastic. Thank you. [16:03]

FO. Thank you.

Object number


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