Their friendly banter and laughter echo in the spacious living room of their plush home. Paying each other compliments and laughing at inside jokes, they are almost like high school sweethearts, even after 28 years of marriage. Francis Nyorani Njeru, 53, an electrical engineer-turned-school proprietor, and his wife Sarah, 50, a teacher, share their love story with EDNA GICOVI.
She had long hair, gorgeous dimples and was just as short as his mother. He watched her every move as she served him and the rest of her family and walked back to the kitchen. He had been sent to her house by one of his older sisters who worked with her father. He was a bit disappointed that she never offered to see him off.
When he saw her again in 1983, he had completed his ‘A’ levels and was studying electrical engineering at the Kenya Polytechnic, while she had just completed form four at Chogoria Girls Secondary School. “He told me he liked my dimples and the fact that I was as short as his mother,” says Sarah with a chuckle. Though they exchanged letters, she was not really interested in being more than friends at the time but Francis persisted and their friendship continued.
The relationship was cemented when Sarah was posted to Kathagutari Primary School in Kune in Mbeere District as an untrained teacher. It was a remote area and the matatus plying that route only went as far as Siakago, about 20 kilometres from Kune. Francis, who visited every other weekend, would walk all this way to see her. “It would take me about four hours. I used a short cut that passed through River Ena where I would fold my trousers and wade through. I actually enjoyed it,” he says, adding, “She would have a kienyeji chicken meal ready for me when I arrived and I would take her down to the river to fetch water. We ended up spending a lot of time by the river, talking and making promises to one another. We would be together all weekend but this time seemed really short to us,” says Francis.
“He visited me the very first month I was posted there and would help me teach some of my mathematic classes, which he is very good at. When the class performed well, everyone thought it was me. The students liked him and would ask about him,” says Sarah.
She has always admired her husband’s patient, loving and caring nature. “He never made our relationship physical and I respect him for that to date,” she says, adding that Francis has also been very supportive of her career and is always the first person she consults, no matter the issue.
After a year’s courtship, the couple tied the knot on January 4, 1986 at a colourful wedding in Embu. They settled in Nairobi but Sarah was still working far away, this time teaching at Siakago Primary School in Siakago Town. Francis would travel to see her every weekend. In 1989, she joined Kaimosi Teachers Training College in Vihiga County. By then, the couple had two daughters aged two-and-a-half years and 10 months. “We were separated yet again and I stayed with the children,” says Francis.
“It was very difficult for me to be away from my husband and children when they were so young but Francis, who is good at writing letters communicated regularly, telling me how everything at home was going,” recalls Sarah. She was at the teachers’ college for two years. “It was also difficult for the children and I to be without her but we were lucky to have her sister living with us,” says Francis.
Though her husband was very supportive of her pursuing her career goals, the distance between them created some mistrust. “Sometimes I would come home from college and would be told to check on this or the other by relatives, or ask the house girl what happened in my absence. I later realised the things I was being told about my husband were untrue and from this learnt to trust him,” she says.
She finds it interesting how their different birth positions played themselves out in the first years of their marriage. Being the first born in her family, she was accustomed to responsibility and would always ensure that everything and everyone at home was taken care of. “He is the last born in his family so he didn’t know much about responsibility. He was so used to taking care of only himself. We really were on two extremes,” she says about her husband.
“As a first born, my wife was expected to take care of the rest of her siblings. We did take care of a number of them but sometimes their presence in our home brought conflicts. We struggled to understand one another and argued about very petty things. I thought she had become very nagging,” says Francis. Sarah laughs and says she did not know any better.
A renewed relationship…
In 1994, Francis and Sarah were introduced to Marriage Encounter, a weekend programme designed to help married couples discover or re-discover the need for God in their lives, improve their marriage, grow closer and improve their commitment to each other. This marked a turning point in their marriage. “One of the lessons we learnt was how to dialogue daily, even about the smallest of issues. From there our marriage changed. It was just as if we were newly married again,” says Sarah. It was after going through this programme that the couple made a decision to love one another unconditionally and without holding back.
“We also decided to put each other first and to always work on our relationship. Whenever there are conflicts between us, we will sit down very quickly and reflect on where both of us have gone wrong and then move on after resolving the issue. We have been very close to each other since going on this programme,” says Francis. “For us there’s no better friend than each other. Knowing this has helped us not to let anything or anyone come between us; not money, our children, our friends or relatives,” he adds.
Better communication has also had a bearing on the couple’s intimacy. “Initially, we had trouble communicating in this area. We could not discuss our feelings openly or tell each other what we desired. I think this is a result of our upbringing. We were coming from a school of thought where some things were never really discussed. After the programme, I was able to understand my wife and myself better. We both learned how to listen to each other,” says Francis, adding that now, with less responsibilities, as their children are grown up, their intimacy is growing stronger by the day.
Sarah says that having fun together has also renewed their relationship. “Once a week, we go out for dinner. We generally spend a lot of time together. We go for a walk together in the morning. We also go dancing together once in a while and meet with friends. One weekend in a term we go away for a full weekend and over the holidays, we travel together,” she says.
Having been involved in the Marriage Encounter programme over the years, Francis and Sarah are now facilitators and speak at different churches. “This has also given us an opportunity to bond because we usually work together during the weekends,” says Sarah.
Living in harmony…
The couple has three grown up children – Christine Karimi, 28, Stella Wawira, 25, Dennis Nyorani, 21, and an eight-month-old grandson Arthur, from their married first-born daughter. “One is not called a parent because he has fathered a child or she has given birth. How you bring up your children is very important. God has enabled us to bring up our children well and also provide for them. The first two are working and the last born is in his second year at the University of Nairobi,” says Francis.
He stresses the importance of cultivating a friendship with children when they are young. “When they were growing up, we would always have family meetings where we would connect and allow the children to air their opinions. I remember during one of our family meetings one of them told us that the only thing that would make them not perform in school would be realizing that the two of us are not in good terms,” says Francis.
Their children once heard Francis and Sarah quarrelling and it made them very uncomfortable, something they expressed during a family meeting. “We listened to their concerns and corrected ourselves. Even if we were to have an argument, we did not have to let our children or anyone know through our words or actions,” he says.
Their children growing up and leaving home has had a big effect on them. “If my wife and I didn’t have a good relationship, I think we would be very lonely after our children grew up and left,” says Francis. “Because of the relationship we had, we were able to draw even closer to one another after our children grew up,” adds Sarah. She goes on to say that one of the things that has made their relationship strong is constant forgiving, something they are both very quick to do. “The most important thing to us is our relationship and that is bigger than any issue we are facing,” says Francis.
Francis is the director of Reby-Peter Memorial School in Kahawa West. In addition to being a teacher, Sarah also helps her husband run the school. “Since this is an area she is very familiar with, I consult her a lot. She has been of great help to me,” says Francis.
The couple has learnt to work together in harmony over the years in different aspects of their lives. “Even financially, we plan together without saying that this is mine or yours. We plan when and where to save and invest. We like to be in agreement on all financial matters,” says Francis. “Most of our properties are in our two names, and on others we alternate,” says Sarah.
According to Francis, marriage works if one puts God first, has patience, a loving and forgiving nature and nurtures the gift of marriage. Sarah says that marriages work where people are engaged in constant communication, that is, dialoguing daily over any issue, and putting each other first always. “Love without expecting anything and remembering that your husband or wife is a choice you made and a gift from God,” she says in conclusion.