There is no road, but the road is good
A few weeks ago, I was riding in a Land Cruiser through rural Tanzania heading to a Maasai village called Nadaruru. I saw a sign for Nadaruru, and our driver, William, slowed down and turned on his blinker. But there was no obvious place to turn off from the main road. From the back of the car, our host Eli said, “there is no road, but the road is good.”
Elibariki Kisimbo (his nickname is Eli, pronounced Ellie) is the country director for Empower Tanzania (ETI), the organization that hosted our group traveling from St. Paul. Eli and his colleagues helped us come to know the programs of this organization and, more importantly, amazing people. He invited us to introduce ourselves, to dance and pray, to drink countless cups of tea and eat bowls of rice and bananas and goat. Through Eli, we met coworkers and partners in their work, government officials, health workers and chiefs, pastors and mothers.
As we drove that day, we’d been with Eli enough to know he would not lead us astray. So for a bumpy 20 minutes we drove through the savannah of East Africa, around gullies and acacia trees until we stopped at the base of a baobab tree.
Near that baobab tree where we pulled off the “road” sat a rusty well that had been broken for years. The hope is to repair it with the generosity of a lot of people on this side of the world. The broken well was put in by the government, but stopped working about a month later. So women and girls are walking miles to streams or dams collecting water for their families, facing threats not just from people (“not all men are good,” one mother said) but also from crocodiles and elephants and lions. As this well sat broken for years, one woman said, “we feel like everyone has forgotten us.”
We were there to remind them that they were not forgotten. The people of Nadaruru are full of hope for this repaired well, not just to increase health and save lives – but for a reason that both surprised and delighted me. They want to plant flowers in front of the clinic. Empower Tanzania started a clinic in this village, a place for vaccinations and pre-natal care and emergency births that need extra care. They trained birth assistants and health care workers to staff it. And now – the clinic will be handed off, the local government taking charge of this necessary place. And soon, hopefully, there will be flowers, too. After all, we all need beauty.
As we talked with Eli about that well and the flowers, he said something like, “yes, flowers. One of the secondary benefits of water.” Water brings so many benefits. The first, of course, is life. Clean water means that people, especially children, stay alive and are no longer dying from waterborne disease or the threats they face when they fetch it. But it’s even more. Water brings opportunity for girls to go to school, additional income, water to grow food and care for livestock, freedom from abuse, and, of course, flowers.
“There is no road, but the road is good.” While it was simply a beautifully phrased description of our actual travel plans for that day, Eli seemed to also describe the challenges and possibilities of doing long-term and sustainable development work. There’s no clear way, no easy prescription to respond to enormous challenges. And yet, the road is good. We saw, in our time in Tanzania, that the road becomes good as it is made, because of the people committed to journey together and their creativity, faithfulness, partnerships, and deep compassion.
It is true, also, in our lives. As we navigate our own challenges and choices, there is no road, no prescribed way, and there is no easy fix. But, when we daily choose compassion and generosity, faithfulness and justice, the road will be good for us and for others. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he called himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. There might not be a road, but there is a Way that brings life and goodness for everyone, and maybe even flowers.