Nana Damoah is a chemical engineer who works for the Anglo-Dutch multinational corporation Unilever, makers of a myriad of food and home and personal care products. Previously he ran a factory in its Ghana subsidiary where he managed over 300 people. Currently he’s the Technical Manager of the company’s Research and Development Department. Married with three children, he also has two literary blogs, tweets regularly, interacts with fans on Facebook and is a contributing author to the online e-zine StoryTime which is dedicated to publishing authentic African fiction.
With so much on his plate, it says a lot about Damoah that he was still able to manage his time and marshal his thoughts to write and publish two books, including his latest Through the Gates of Thought.
Damoah’s rationale for penning his new book not only shows why he felt compelled to share his musings with the world, it reveals a man who, as a Ghanaian, is deeply proud of his African roots and cannot help being inspired by his culture where the thoughts, ideals and knowledge of the family, tribe or clan have been transmitted from one generation to the next by means of an oral tradition.
“I think of my descendants two, three or four generations from now; I think of my children forty, fifty years from now; I try to remember the stories my dad shared with me about his life’s experiences. Will my descendants know what I am going through today, what my wishes were for my generation and for them? Can the lessons I have picked up from the varied peregrinations in my life be crystallised for eternity, for the benefit of those yet unborn?” Damoah ponders.
In an effort to find answers, he embarked upon a pilgrimage through the gates of thought and contemplation, almost akin to the spiritual quest of King Solomon during which he sought to understand what was the whole point of man labouring endlessly under the sun, and what is to be gained from it all in the end.
Damoah’s journey resulted in the birth of his “Empower Series” which he started writing in 2004. The first compilation was titled Excursions in My Mind. Though the Gates of Thought is the second in the series.
In the opening chapter Bringing up Someone Else’s Child, Damoah muses over his upbringing in Ghana.
“I grew up in an environment where the responsibility for bringing up a child was not the responsibility of the parents alone, but the entire society, because the child belonged to the community. A child who became an armed robber will not rob only the parents!”
He then reminisces about his mother and recalls the valuable lesson he learnt from watching the way she treated strangers.
“Growing up, I observed my mum extend such kindness to many strangers, even to this day. Her philosophy, when I once queried her about her reasons, was that if she extended kindness to someone’s child who was living in an alien land, the same courtesy would be extended to her child when the situation was reversed.”
Viewed against the backdrop of the Western world with its pervasive, all-consuming culture which over time has become staunchly individualistic and impersonal, these statements are incredibly sobering. Even more so when you consider the unwelcome reception meted out to many Africans and other ‘Third World’ immigrants seeking economic opportunities in industrialised countries; countries from which came many millions in times past, all seeking a better life in those same ‘Third World’ countries where they were in truth treated with kindness most of the time.
In Damoah’s mind such homespun maxims, which he proffers liberally throughout the book, have not lost their power, notwithstanding his journeys through the halls of academia where their relevance would no doubt have been tried and tested. He holds a Masters in Chemical Engineering from the University of Nottingham, UK and a first degree in Chemical Engineering from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana
Nana Damoah also has a strong Christian background. He is an associate of Joyful Way Incorporated, a Christian Music ministry in Ghana, and was its National President from 2002 to 2004. As a result, he views life through the prisms of faith and cultural experiences which, together, yield fruits of wisdom that turn out to be complementary rather than contradictory.
In the chapter “When it is More Blessed to Use than to Give,’ the Bible serves as his guide on his mental excursions. He conjures the personalities of King Solomon and Job and revisits those aspects of their character which have endeared them to Christians all over the world – their wisdom and spiritual insights, and their knack for giving practical advice. Then he proceeds to pull the rug out from under them.
Recalling how Job had instructed many and “strengthened weak hands” and those with “feeble knees” yet faltered and gave in to despair when bad times befell him, Damoah reminds his readers of God’s words to the old sage. “Now it comes upon you, and you are weary; it touches you and you are troubled.”
Damoah drives the message home with a salient observation: “Words are cheap, but they gain greater worth when they first minister to the speaker of the same … Job, in this situation, was like the physician who couldn’t heal himself.”
As for Solomon who advised men to be content with the wife of their youth and to drink from their own cistern, Damoah ponders why the great philosopher failed to heed his own advice.
“He took exactly the opposite course, concluding his shopping bout in the feminine world with his basket full of 700 wives and 300 concubines.”
His conclusion and advice to others: “Be less generous with your advice: live it instead.”
Continuing to look inward, Damoah ruminates over the realities of daily life in the workplace where people are “excellent at mapping out extensive and elaborate action plans.”
“The problem is that most of these plans become … strategic plans on top shelves – left to accumulate dust, yielding no results,” he laments.
How does one overcome this perennial inertia which afflicts not just workplaces but, all too often, people’s personal lives?
Damoah found the answer watching his 1-year old son trying to walk around the house – graduating from crawling on his stomach and then on all fours, to the point where he was able to take up to five steps without holding onto anything. One month later he is finally able to walk unaided and even dance around.
“I believe in baby steps … No one strides by moving both feet at the same time.” says Damoah, adding, “The baby is not afraid that someone will say he/she is taking baby steps and not walking in the right way … Don’t wait to become an expert before you attempt converting your thought into action, for as Art Buck said, ‘Though good may come of practice, this primal truth endures: the first time anything is done, it is done by amateurs.”
Throughout the book the Eureka moment invariably comes from introspection and pondering over philosophical, cultural and religious tenets handed down through the ages. What is unique about Through the Gates of Thought is that Damoah serves them up with fresh perspectives and, in so doing, compels the reader to pause and think.
One of the most thought-provoking pieces is his reflection on the youths of Africa and the world. He is disturbed by the way so many young people “act as if they have all the time in the world.” He’s also baffled by older people who “think this attitude is right” and contribute to the wealth loss of a generation by perpetuating the notion that “life begins at 40 and life before that is non-scoring.”
“Young men and women are causing wealth loss to their generation because they are sitting on inert ideas, bottled-up potential energy and scratching the ground when they should be striding the skies and perambulating with the stars. Young people who proceed without any urgency in life … Do you hear the opinions of the young men and women under twenty-five? I don’t hear them very often.”
He turns to nature and Ghanaian culture for counsel and shares his insights with the youth.
“Don’t think you have a great deal of time to make a difference in this world. Recognise that both brown and green leaves fall to the ground. In the northern parts of Ghana, it is said that in the hide market, you can find pieces from both old and young animals.”
Each chapter concludes with quotations from world-renowned philosophers, writers and theologians pertinent to the thoughts being discussed. In addition, having provided his readers with a copious supply of intellectual and spiritual food for thought, he presents them with ‘Action Exercises” designed to motivate them to act upon whatever insights they acquire from accompanying him on the journey through his thoughts.
“I see myself as a distillation plant that takes issues around me – mundane,
routine everyday occurrences – as my raw material; then reflects on and processes them, producing various fractions, fit for use by my readers,” says Damoah. And by and large, he succeeds admirably.
Through the Gates of Thought is well-written with a simple, flowing style and is, without doubt, an inspiring read. Moreover, it covers a broad range of spiritual, social and cultural topics, offering perspectives and practical suggestions that are relevant to daily life in virtually all nations and cultures.
Check out Nana Damoah’s blog http://nanaaweredamoah.wordpress.com/