Interview with British Council Africa – December 2006

Full transcript (unabridged), done in December 2008, just before the book launch for my first book, ‘Excursions in My Mind’.

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1. Can you tell me more about yourself?

My name is Nana Awere Damoah, born in Accra, Ghana and residing in Tema, Ghana, with my family – my wife, Vivian, and our boys, Nana Kwame Bassanyin and Nana Yaw Appiah. I have lived all my life in Ghana except for my year’s study in the UK.

My background is in Chemical Engineering, with degrees from University of Nottingham, UK (2006) and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana (1999). I studied in Nottingham as a British Council Chevening scholar. My entire working career has been with Unilever Ghana, since 2000 and presently the Production Manager – Foods. I served, from 2002 to 2004, as the National President of Joyful Way Incorporated, a Christian evangelistic music group formed in 1972, with branches in Ghana and associates spread all across the globe. I have been a member of Joyful Way since 1992.

My hobbies are reading, writing, watching movies, being with friends and mentoring young people. My friends tell me I am quite jovial!

2. What course did you study at Nottingham and how long was it?

In Nottingham, I studied for a year, for a Master’s in Chemical Engineering, from Sept 2005 to Sept 2006, a really wonderful time!

3. Can you tell me more about the title of your book?

I chose Excursions in my mind, from a quote by Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “From whatever place I write, you will expect that part of my ‘Travels’ will consist of excursions in my mind.” It encapsulates the philosophy of the book, lessons from daily life, wherever I journey to, and reflections in my mind. I act like a distillation plant that takes issues around me, mundane, routine everyday occurrences as my raw material, reflect on and process them, producing various fractions.

4. What is your book all about, what inspired you to write that book?

Excursions in my Mind is a collection of reflective essays and poems, supported by quotations from literary sources, the Bible; actually all sorts of sources. The reflections cover a broad scope of issues that confront us everyday, and touch on key issues such as self-help, leadership, love for one’s parents, nature of friendship and daily walk in faith in contemporary life. The topics are selected as randomly as events and circumstances confront the average person but are cogitated upon, repeatedly, intertwined with my own life experiences and stories: a sort of perambulation in a labyrinth, but with an eventual egress, escorted by cogent lessons for life’s improvement.

My inspiration for writing is two-fold: life is a business to be worked at and lived, not just dreamed about, and that in doing this, we need to be ‘learning people’ – there is an example, a message, a lesson, a warning or a moral you can discover in every scene of the play that is called ‘life.’ He is never old who continues to learn and he is already old who ceases to learn. Harvey Ullman puts the same thought this way: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether this happens at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps on learning not only remains young but becomes constantly valuable regardless of physical capacity.” With these scripts, I attempt to instigate thought, provoke reflections and educe action.

The second inspiration is this: as an African writer, who is in a technical discipline (a practising Chemical Engineer), I seek to be an example to our youth that they can experiment and explore, and not to let their scope and influence on their generation be restricted by their formal training, to stop restricting themselves to the box or pigeon-hole when they can go beyond the perimeter and reach the pinnacle of their potential, to grasp the verity that talents cannot be tamed and should be employed for the universal good of mankind.

5. Have you always wanted to be a writer? If you weren’t writing what would you be doing?

I started writing seriously when I was about 17 years. Right from my preparatory school, I was involved in acting plays and reciting poetry. I started with essays, but moved swiftly into short stories. In 1997, I entered and won a national competition for true short stories. I got into poetry in the University, during my undergraduate years, and used to recite my poems in church. I started writing these essays which form the material for my first book, in Oct 2004 and circulated to my friends via email. When I was in the UK for my masters, I started updating them on the blog (www.excursionsinmymind.blogspot.com). I never really thought of becoming a full-time writer, but I have always wanted to be an author. I love teaching, so I hope to combine my industrial work, writing and lecturing.

6. Do you think the British Council must continue to sponsor the Chevening Scholarship and why?

Oh yes! Myriad benefits accrue to the Chevening scholar. The experience of studying and interacting with students from over 150 countries, learning their ways of life, networking, which is key to fostering global business and becoming friends with them for life cannot be quantified. The scholarship opportunity also affords the platform to calibrate intellect, abilities and behavior against the best in the world, and greatly enhances the self-confidence and attitudes of scholars. Finally, Chevening is about developing future leaders and scholars with this kaleidoscope of exposure will certainly have an advantage in global leadership.

7. What does being a Chevening alumni mean to you?

The Chevening brand is global, strong and well-known, and certainly the product that carries it – the alumni – benefits thereby. The networking within the Chevening community is priceless, and is, in my opinion, not even fully harnessed.

8. What other projects are you currently working on?

Currently I am focused on my work in the manufacturing industry and my writing, maintaining three blogs: http://www.excursionsinmymind.blogspot.com, http://www.patmoscollections.blogspot.com and http://www.storyloom.blogspot.com. I recently had my first book ‘Excursions in my mind’ published by Athena press UK. The launch is planned for December 2008 in Ghana. I am working on a novel about the legendary spider (Ananse) in Ghanaian forklore, and also on my second book of reflective essays. In the future, I plan to expand my voluntary service of mentoring young people, so they can be empowered as the next leadership of our continent.

9. What do you plan to achieve in the next 5 years?

To have published at least two more books, and established myself as a writer and mentor of young people. I am also keen on getting a degree in business administration to enhance my breadth in management.

10. How would you define success? Do you consider yourself successful?

To me, success is measured by how much of an influence, a service and benefit you are to your society. A successful person is not one who can take care of himself, but can also take care of others. I agree with John Maxwell and Aristotle that success has elements of knowing one’s purpose in life, having the resources to achieve that, so one can be a blessing to his generation. Success, then, is a journey not a destination. I would say I am on a journey dotted with successful milestones.

11. Where can people purchase your book?

My book can be purchased through http://www.amazon.com, http://www.amazon.co.uk and Athena (http://www.athenapress.com/book.php?ID=2693). It will also be available in selected bookshops in Ghana.

PS: In Ghana, it is available in Silverbird bookshop, Accra Mall.

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