Scotland's Year of Stories Project: One Life, Two Cultures

On the evening of Saturday 24 September African and Caribbean Elders in Scotland (ACES) hosted an online event offering a sneak peek at stories collected as part of their oral history project, One Life, Two Cultures. Twenty-five people attended the session. Nine different speakers shared their stories of life in Scotland and what it was like to move to the country from Ghana, Mauritius, Sierra Leone, Jamaica, the Gambia, Uganda, and Nigeria. Participants joined in from all over Scotland, including Glasgow, Edinburgh, Linlithgow, Dumfries and Galloway, and Ullapool, along with participants tuning in live from Kenya and Ghana.

ACES members have been working hard to write and edit their own oral histories for a publication that will come out at the end of 2022. As one speaker, Kay, eloquently put it, "everyone has a story to tell, but putting it down on paper takes hard work and determination". During the event speakers reflected on a variety of topics, from love, education, and parenting, to immigration, pursuing career paths, the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement and fighting injustice. As one speaker, Chief, remarked, "when we listen, we find solutions to challenges". Sharing their experiences and knowledge with new listeners reinforced a sense of community while recording this important part of Scottish history, heritage, and culture for future generations.


Two examples of oral histories from the project:

From Ghana to Glasgow: Mary Osei-Oppong

I am going to tell you a little bit about my life in Glasgow.

I came to the UK in May 1982 from the Ashanti Region in Ghana, West Africa. I first arrived at London Heathrow Airport and spent one week in London and then came to Glasgow the following week by train.

My very first experience was getting used to wearing a long coat. It was May and summer time, when most people in Glasgow were in summer clothes. As far as they were concerned the temperature was warm enough, but I felt cold. You can imagine, I came from a place with temperatures of thirty degrees so when it’s below twenty degrees, it’s very cold. So the weather was my first adjustment.

I realised pretty soon that it rained a lot in Glasgow. Then autumn came and I felt extreme cold for the first time in my life and then discovered gas heaters with visible flames. To keep myself warm, I used to sit close to the gas heater but soon got burnt and found decolourisation of skin on my legs. That was an eye opener!

Then came getting used to the food, for example potato-based foods. In the 80s there were not a lot of exotic fruits and vegetables available. I ate a lot of rice dinners, but not by choice. Eventually I found Yeoman’s mash potato powder and starch powder called ‘Farina’ and I was able to start making a substitute Ghanaian meal called “fufu” and making typical Ghanaian (Asante) soup. It was a bit tricky, but nevertheless, it helped me enjoy dinners more in the early days.

Another challenge was the ability to communicate effectively - not that I couldn’t speak English - it was the accent. It was difficult to start with, but I listened to the radio as well as watching TV and this helped me a lot to understand and it has to be said it was difficult for people I met also to understand my accent as well.

I felt that Scotland was beautiful and most people were kind and helpful. I particularly liked the architecture and still do.

A big culture shock was to realise that some people in the UK slept rough. And the appetite for alcohol and the foul language spoken. The image held of the British in Ghana at that time was one of high esteem, so to find some people around town heavily drunk, some sleeping rough and members of the public swearing like troopers were all very shocking to me.

Also the colour of clothes people wore at the time, mostly dark colours. In Ghana we wear vibrant colours. So, looking for clothes to buy was a challenge, as I was fixed on bright colours but I soon got used to that.

My biggest challenge has been integration. I would go to places and expect to be accepted - just like Ghanaians accept British there - but that was not the case. Some people did not want to come close to me. I suppose some people are afraid of the unknown. In the early 80s, there were not a lot of Africans or Caribbeans (Afro-Caribbean people) in Scotland and the other black people I met, most of them were students.

I lived in the West-End of Glasgow, to be precise, West Princess Street, Saint George's Cross and after Park Road next to Kelvinbridge Tube Station on Great Western Road.

When I first came to Glasgow I got very homesick and still do from time to time. I missed my family the most, my mum, dad and siblings. I also missed the food, culture, the people, pleasantness, the weather, the festivity around Christmas and Easter time and the feeling of belonging.

To continue my education, I embarked on a number of courses to refresh my education including Food Handling and Hygiene, Accounting and Computing Application. I then studied for a Higher National Diploma in Computing and Business Administration. I studied for a degree in Computing and Business Administration. I went on to teacher training college to gain Postgraduate Certification in Education (Secondary).

I specialised in Computing Science and Business Education/Studies as my two main teaching subjects and Religious Education as a generalist. I achieved all this in one year and later qualified as a Chartered Teacher.

My biggest achievements have been my three children, working hard with commitment and dedication and being able to teach in Scotland for over twenty-one years. I have also campaigned for equality in education and in society as a whole, always aiming to integrate and add value to society.


A ray of sunshine: Harriette Campbell

At 77 years old, I am an activist, a founding member of the African and Caribbean Women's Association (ACWA) in Scotland in 1988, along with other women’s groups and organisations, including African and Caribbean Elders in Scotland (ACES). I am also a mother of two beautiful grown-up girls and two adorable teenage grandchildren.

I was born 7th October 1944 in Bathurst, now Banjul, in The Gambia, which was then a British Colony. I think about what was happening during those months leading to my birth. My parents must have been very happy.

I am the eldest of 7 siblings (two girls and five boys) and was educated in primary and secondary schools mainly run by missionaries. I was inspired by my mum who was a nurse, so after leaving school I embarked on working in the nursing profession. I wanted to make my mum happy and she wanted me to follow in her footsteps. I trained in the Royal Victoria Hospital in The Gambia and became a certificated Nurse Midwife. It was a rewarding career. During my eight years of working, I delivered numerous babies in hospitals and home deliveries before rendering my resignation.

In August 1970 I relocated to the United Kingdom to continue my nursing career. My journey took me a day and a half by aeroplane. (The alternative would have been by boat, which then took seven days). This was my maiden flight from home, with an overnight stop in Las Palmas before my final destination in the UK. The airport was massively different from the one I left behind.

Arriving in the UK was a culture shock. The weather was very cold, people were very serious, the sun did not shine, and buildings were all so different from back home. My friend’s husband collected me from the airport. I was very sick throughout our journey in the car (one of the reasons why I did not learn to drive at home). The streets were not paved with gold! (laughs). Finally after a very long journey we arrived at the family home in Calne, a town in Wiltshire, England. I was warmly welcomed. This was a brief stop for two weeks and I managed to shop for warm clothing. I reported at the Nurses’ Home and was welcomed by the House Matron and a few nurses. My first night at the Nurses’ Home, I cried all night. I was twenty-five years old and terribly homesick.

I quickly made friends. The home was a massive building, which accommodated nurses from different parts of the world. We travelled to work in coaches together and ate together. The food was different - there were limited African products, but we improvised. There was plenty of fun and laughter. The first few months patients made me feel uncomfortable. As a nurse, I continued to show my patience, especially when told not to touch them, to go back to where I came from, and to go and have a wash, because they assumed that I was dirty.

A few of us nurses travelled together after our exams to Austria. It was an exciting holiday and we visited the famous castle where Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang was filmed. We hired bikes on a daily basis and had fun.

I moved to Glasgow, Scotland, in 1973. I remembered my Scottish teachers, who taught me about the lochs and lakes, Scottish country dancing and the reel. What made me choose Scotland? My nosiness. I wanted to know more about Scottish people, but I was disappointed about people’s attitude towards me, because of my skin colour. I was afraid to walk alone in the streets at night, especially in the area where the Nurses’ Home was located, which was a deprived and dilapidated area. There was name calling and stone throwing.

I started working in the hospital wards. Although I spoke English, I found it difficult to communicate. Depending on where you are in the city, you are referred to as "hen". My reply was that "I was a chicken," just for a laugh. Another common word, when a patient was asked to do something and could not do it, is the reply "I canny". To me, this word meant "hot pepper" not "I cannot"! Gradually I got to understand how culturally diverse Scottish people are, depending on what geographical area you live in.

I have memories of sitting and talking to patients who felt alone. I tried cheering them up. I was even given the nickname "Sunshine" whenever I entered this particular medical ward. I asked why and was told that I am always smiling and just a ray of sunshine.

The last 15 years of my career I worked in the Acute Stroke Unit, a specialist unit for stroke patients from all age groups. To see the recovery of most patients and their relatives' smiles and laughter made me feel happy to be part of the journey. At 56 years old I decided to be trained as a counsellor and I received my Diploma in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (with support from a couple of the ward consultants). My experience helped my mum's recovery when she suffered her stroke at the age of 84. I retired at the age of 60 in 2004.

A colleague and I working as nurses noticed that there was a gap in the National Health Service in Scotland for awareness and treatment for Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia, inherited red blood cell disorders. African and Caribbean communities are mainly affected. We started our awareness raising campaign by organising conferences, seminars, engaging with policy makers and the communities. This earned me an Honorary Doctorate Degree, from Glasgow Caledonian University in July 2021, which I accepted with pride and great honour. I am now a Doctor of Science.


One Life, Two Cultures is funded by a European Heritage Days Stories grant, administered by the Council of Europe and the European Commission, and an award from the Year of Stories Community Stories Fund, administered by Visit Scotland and Museum Galleries Scotland.

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Two participants in project demonstrate an instrument via a Zoom meeting
Ⓒ Jennifer Novotny

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