He still thinks about the man who convinced him that nothing was impossible.
There will be many people who come and go in the life Jordan Blekking has charted for himself these days. But few figure to affect what he will do and who he will be more than Laban Nshimbi — the Zambian man who became a mentor, a colleague and, most important, a friend when he needed it most.
“Mr. Nshimbi,” as Blekking still calls him, left perhaps the most indelible impact on him in the three years he spent as a Peace Corps volunteer.
The first two years he spent in the village of Makiya and the last he served as a project manager for a public health non-governmental organization in Choma.
But it was Nshimbi, a gregarious and optimistic villager, who may have changed how Blekking looks at the world now.
“We talked about a lot of stuff in that time,” said Blekking, who returned to Battle Creek two weeks ago and is now an adjunct teacher at Kellogg Community College.
He recalls most vividly, as he detailed when he wrote for the Enquirer while in Zambia, about Nshimbi’s plan to develop a fish pond in the village.
He saw the potential where few others did and Blekking spent weeks helping him create the project to make money and feed the village.
“Everyone said his fish pond was impossible,” Blekking said. “But when he started counting his money from the fish he sold, no one was laughing.”
The two men developed a strong friendship, with Nshimbi teaching the Michigan native about the ways of his African village and Blekking helping him about the Internet and other modern technology.
And when he left Makiya after his two-year commitment, the goodbyes were difficult.
“He understood what I was trying to accomplish,” he said. “Just because they don’t have much doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot to teach.”
And those lessons have stayed with him.
“I asked him (last night) if he still misses Zambia,” said his mom Linda Younglove. “And he said, ‘Oh yes.’ ”
Blekking, 29, knew he wouldn’t be the same person when he returned from his experience. But, as with many Peace Corps volunteers, the changes snuck up on him.
“Jordan is more focused on people,” Younglove said in a follow-up email. “He’s definitely more compassionate but also is more interested in getting to know how people feel about things rather than spending so much time talking about things that really don’t matter. He gets by on less — he has seen how very little the Zambian people have but how genuinely happy they were.”
He has also learned, if he needed another lesson, how different life is in America.
“It’s like I’m rediscovering the United States,” he said. “So much of the United States is there for the taking. Everyone has a phone and everyone is communicating on their phone but I’m not sure they’re saying anything. People are vastly more interesting than any app.”
Perhaps the greatest lesson Blekking learned from his experience is that teaching may be what he was destined to do.
“I think that has changed,” Younglove said. “Last summer when he came back and did a presentation (at KCC), I said ‘You should be a teacher; you’re a natural.’ I think in this last year it became more of a passion for him to teach.”
So Blekking, who graduated from Pennfield High School and KCC before transferring to Michigan State University where he earned his bachelor of science degree in Environmental Studies and Applications, checked it out.
He was able to land a part-time position this summer teaching physical geography with an emphasis on how humans interact with the environment.
As a result, his emphasis is on drought, climate change, clean water and how to a feed a growing world population.
“There are going to be 2 billion more people by 2050,” he said. “That’s hugely important for us in the United States and Europe.”
Much of what he’s teaching, he said, has come from what he learned in Zambia.
“I see a lot of this in real-world application,” he said.
In the fall, Blekking returns to school, this time as a graduate student at Indiana University where he will study in the Department of Geography. Eventually, he’d like to teach at a community college.
And while he had opportunities to attend several schools, he chose Indiana for a specific reason — it will send him back to Zambia for field study next summer.
And, perhaps, he’ll run into Mr. Nshimbi again.
“It was the best choice I ever made,” he said. “I got lucky going to Zambia.”
Call Chuck Carlson at 966-0690. Follow him on Twitter: @ChuckCarlson4
SOURCE : battlecreekenquirer.com
Photo Credit : Jordan Blekking