Book Review: ‘I speak of Ghana’ (Author: Nana Awere Damoah)
By: ‘Hon’ Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng (Hon Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng)
(Author, ‘Abrokyir Nkomo: Reflections of A Ghanaian Immigrant’)
It is not often that you come across a book that evokes deep-seated memories, makes you break out in a thousand smiles, and sends you into deep reflection at the same time. Such roller-coaster journeys are rare, and yet that is precisely what ‘I Speak of Ghana’ does to the reader. Nana Damoah deftly uses the power of words to build a magnificent bus and then he invites us on a journey. This bus is special, built with a Rolls Royce engine. It has the luxury of a Bentley, and the speed and sleekness of a Ferrari.
Driving this bus himself, Nana does not limit himself to the first gear-no, no, no. He drives us through our own world called Sikaman as he smoothly changes from gear to gear with skill and aplomb. In a short while, we are already on fourth gear. It is a pleasant journey, evoking varying sentiments. The scenery is beautiful, but at times he swings by the squalid slums just to remind us that these blots exist on our national landscape and that we ought to do better. He digs into our collective memory bank, he challenges us to think, he inspires us and he makes us laugh-all in varying measures.
Nana starts the journey with a warm-up titled ‘You Know You Are in Ghana When…’ . He reminds us of some of the things that uniquely make us Ghanaian-the good the bad and the ugly. You cannot help but chuckle as your read along. As a true ‘Kumasiano’, whose home region is the undisputed nerve centre of Ghana’s funeral industry, I was particularly struck by his apt observation that;
‘You know you are in Ghana when ambulances carry dead people leisurely from the hospitals whilst taxis carry sick people hurriedly to the hospitals’
Of course I laughed over this truism, but I was also sharply reminded of the twisted priorities we have in this nation. Here is another sharp one; that highlights our obsession with all things western;
You know you are in Ghana when you hear names of football clubs like Asante Akyem Weder Bremen, Gomoa Dominase Everton, Betomu Hull City, Sefwi Wiaso Barcelona, Patase Milan.
From a gentle cruise, Nana steps on the accelerator and forces us to think about our sense of patriotism and call to duty, with a chapter titled ‘Pro Patria, For The Sake of Africa!’ He traces his early days at Ghana National College, Cape Coast, and explores the school’s motto, ’Pro Patria’ (For the sake of the Fatherland). Here, my only quarrel with the author is that really, he should have attended my alma mater, Opoku Ware School. I was in Upper Six there when he entered Form One at Ghana National. I assure him that had he abandoned the sea and come to the hinterland to enter OWASS, I would have taken better care of him and prevented the treatment he recounts he received at the hands of a senior called Stagger who had bloodshot eyes, or from the tall, lanky Senior Vandycke who was suspected to sample herbal delights. But I will forgive him, as brothers do each other.
Throughout the book, Nana swings from discussing deep, crucial issues afflicting our nation to exhorting us to do our best for our nation and continent, and then to taking pot shots at Ghanaians as a people, in a bid to help us laugh at ourselves and also be more serious about growing this country. He touches on our national identity over 50 years following our independence. He hits hard at the lack of access to places of convenience for most of our citizens. He touches on youth and development. He pulls no punches and asks our leaders whether they are not ashamed about their inability to replicate all the lovely things they see abroad back home-the orderliness, the planned streets and many others. Ladies and gentlemen, do not be fooled by Nana’s smooth smiles and gentle physical demeanour. Once he hits the computer keyboard, his literary fangs can be deadlier than a cobra’s.
Nana exhorts us not to be of the grasshopper mentality but rather think and soar like the eagle. He tells a fascinating story recounted by the late Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey to drive home his point. He exhorts our youth not to regard life before the age of 40 as ‘non-scoring’ and reminds us of the exploits of Alexander the Great and British Prime Minister William Pitt The Younger, who both accomplished a great deal before the age of 30. He questions why we should flock abroad in droves to search for greener pastures when foreigners are flocking this country in search of even greener pastures and actually find these pastures right here. Nana boxes you in and forces you to think. He reminds us that hope is not a strategy. But then the importance of the mind and of thinking is of such great importance to him and is a common theme that runs through his earlier works, notably ‘Excursions In My Mind’, and ‘Through The Gates of Thought’. The titles are self-evident. No nation has been able to develop without great thinkers, and clearly, Nana is one of the foremost thinkers of his generation in this country.
But the author does not just do philosophy, motivation and story-telling. He switches gears and helps us to laugh at ourselves. And that is an excellent tonic for any nation. He tells us, in the chapter whose title I had to practice for several days before today. In ‘Ghana mano syncratic Nsempiism’ he weaves around with some of the favourite Ghanaian phrases and words that are not found in the dictionary but which are standard and unique in Ghanaian lexicology. ‘Who born dog?’ ‘Who born you by mistake?’ ‘Booklong’, ’Dumsor’, and many more. I would add one of my grandfather’s favourites; ‘bleddy fool’. You can’t help but laugh. He also tells us of the things to be fearful of in Sikaman, chief of which is when nature comes calling with such unapologetic force and there is no place in sight to do your physiological ‘downloading’. I am sure many of us have been in that desperate situation that forces you to walk so gingerly, lest things eject themselves ‘by force’ from your body. It is truly fearful. Another fearful thing he recounts is how to navigate overzealous policemen eager to nab you for any traffic offence, real or contrived. Many examples abound in the book.
Before Nana signs out, he takes his passengers on a breathtaking drive around the Volta Region as he recounts a holiday with his family exploring the natural beauty there. Through the power and dexterity of words, he captures this untapped region in a way that no tourist guide is able to, and points out how with some lateral thinking and a sense of purpose, we could work magic in this country. Now I know that come Valentine Day 2014, I will whisk the object of my heart’s desire across the Adomi Bridge and up Afadjato, where we shall enjoy some coolness. Boys abr3!
Nana simply holds you spellbound. Putting the book down once you have started it is not an option, not because someone says so, but because you just can’t. Nana is a satirist, a philosopher, a storyteller and a motivational writer all rolled into one, and he explores his work with great skill, dovetailing the themes neatly and seamlessly into each other.
And when you have come to the end of this wonderful journey in his literary bus, you get off having a huge imprint in your mind, and the word ‘wow’ is what comes to mind. You are blown away. But you are slightly annoyed that the journey has come to an end. Time flies when you are having a great time. You wonder when the driver will take you on another trip.
Ladies and gentlemen, you cannot afford not to have a copy of this book. But even more than that you cannot afford NOT to tell others about it. We have a duty to celebrate our own, especially when they shine and dazzle as Nana has with this book.
‘I speak of Ghana’ is a great piece of work, and I highly recommend it to all.