ANTHONY AND ESTHER GACHANJA Choosing family over fame

The seamless ease with which catering and entertainment entrepreneur couple 38-year-old Anthony Marcus Gachanja and 39-year-old Esther Emali Gachanja move is evident even to a clueless stranger who has met them for the first time. It is easy to see that after 11 years of marriage, they are not only in-sync physically but complement each other in the way they speak to their children and carry on around their house. The couple open up to ESTHER AKELLO on the ups and downs of their 11-year union and how family keeps them grounded.

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What is it about each other that convinced you to get married and cemented your relationship for 11 years?

Anthony: There’s a Kikuyu saying that says: A good woman gets married in the neighbourhood. It means, if you are well behaved, then you attract the admiration of your neighbours and for me that was how she portrayed herself.

We were friends and neighbours for six years before we got married in 2004, and one of the incredible things I observed about her was her compassion. When her sister had an early pregnancy and had to resume her studies, she helped look after the baby. I would watch her take him to school everyday without fail. When I broke my leg in 2003 in a car accident, she would come home from work every evening and massage my leg and help me with my walking exercises. She was also and still is, deeply rooted in the church.

Esther: I can only describe Anthony as loving. Often times, when I have my women’s group meetings, I tend to panic when guests arrive and I am ill prepared especially in the food department. He automatically takes over the cooking process and I get to play host. He is also very hands on and not just when it comes to matters of providence, but other duties around the house, including bathing and changing our children’s diapers from the time they were little. He also attended all their deliveries.

Anthony: (Emphatically) I know a lot of men do not want to see what goes on during childbirth but I did my research and concluded that I wanted to be there. Besides, the medical practioners advise that the father should stay near his wife’s head where he can encourage her and give support so there’s nothing much to fear.

You come from different ethnic communities. How did your family react to the news of your engagement?

Esther: Initially, it was an issue as a sibling of mine had a wife from a different ethnic community and the marriage did not work out. There was a lot of scepticism over our cultural divides but once they realised that I was serious about Anthony, they came around.

Anthony: My parents also had their misgivings about intercultural marriages but I managed to convince them that it was the best decision for me and they fully supported me.

When you met, Anthony was not a saved Christian like you were. Was there judgment from the church and from a personal level over this fact and how did you reconcile yourself with that?

Esther: Anthony is a diverse man and is not only a chef but a DJ and a sound engineer as well. The fact that he was a disc jockey was unsettling for me because I knew a lot of people, especially from the church, would be quick to judge him. However, he met my criteria in what I wanted in a husband and that was what mattered. He may not have professed his salvation but he attended church and that was good enough for me.

Anthony: After we got married I made the decision to get saved.

How was it blending and jelling as a couple once you got married?

Anthony: I learnt that fighting is not necessary though it is part and parcel of all relationships. I am a good listener and by nature a people pleaser. So I quickly learnt to read in between the lines whenever she said something and once she told me she did not like something, I went out of my way to ensure that I avoided annoying her, especially when it came to the day-to-day matters of running the home. It is important for couples to put each other in the other person’s shoes as this will help ensure understanding between couples.

Esther: I am a neat freak and he, not so much. However, he is really good at compromising so we did not have major issues bonding as a young couple. We have also learnt that it is better to be part of a solution as opposed to a problem.

Given the fact that Anthony’s work as a DJ is surrounded by a party lifestyle and culture including women and alcohol, what approach have you taken as a couple to foster trust and avoid temptation?

Anthony: One of the very first things I told her was the kind of exposure I faced at work. I did request her to trust me and understand that it was merely a job. I am only in the club because I am working. Outside the club, I am a father, husband and chef. To date, Esther has never questioned where my loyalties lie. It’s true, a lot of women approach me but I have learnt to act a fool. And I am very open about my marital lifestyle, which most times, easily puts them off. The biggest mistake one can make is to pursue a sinister invitation.

Esther: It took me sometime to get used to it but I realised that he is by nature very social and that he is a different kind of DJ. He doesn’t drink or smoke. I do accompany him to some of his gigs and sometimes female fans will come up to him, hug him or even give him a peck. I am used to it by now, so much so that we have become acquainted with some of the ladies and they even come up to me to say hi. (Jokingly) In the event that I would ever question his loyalty, it’s the non-club going women that I would watch out for; he has never been into women who frequent clubs!

There is a belief among many people that marriage kills one’s social life, especially for men.

Anthony: I think it’s a matter of choice. If you want marriage to work then you have to make tough choices. For instance, I am a football fan but I have no problem missing a game to spend time with my family. There is a certain lifestyle attached to being a DJ, one of fame, fortune, women and other luxuries but when faced with the choice, I chose family over fame.

I am sure, as many other couples have affirmed, you have had your fair share of fights. Do you remember your first major fight?

Anthony: The first disagreement that I would consider serious was one that involved naming our first-born child because we were torn on how to do it, based on our cultural customs. While Esther wanted to go with both Kikuyu and Luhya names, my Kikuyu customs did not allow for that.

Esther: After a lot of consultation, we settled on a Kikuyu name. My apprehension at the time stemmed from the fact that Kenya at that point was at the height of ethnic tension following the 2007 polls and I feared giving my son a Kikuyu name would lead to him being victimised.

You have three other children. Did you come up with a win-win naming system or you wing it with every child?

Anthony: We both knew we were getting into an intercultural marriage so we have learnt to compromise. For instance, our first-born is named after his paternal grandfather while the second-born has a Luhya name.

Esther: (chuckling) When we got the twin girls, I thought finally we could break even and have names from both sides of the divide, only to find out that according to the Kikuyu culture, they could not be named as such as it is considered a bad omen. So they both got Kikuyu names but like Anthony said, compromise!

How are your children different from each other?

Esther: Our first-born is Kayde Gachanja, nine years old now. He’s the responsible type. We rarely have disciplinary issues when it comes to him. In fact, we have had to teach him how to defend himself against his younger brother, eight-year-old Amani, who has a Luhya name, Musungu. He’s more of a risk taker and fusses, complains and experiments over and with everything.

He defies us just to see how we would react. The twins, Shanna Wambui and Sharis Wambura, are five years and though they are your typical five-year-old girls, they are very different from each other. The girls have just graduated from pre-unit from Our Lady of Assumption Academy in South B and will join the boys in Nairobi Primary School in Standard one, in 2016.

Has parenting changed you?

Anthony: A lot. I love kids and get along with them. I am more of the clown and Esther is the stern one. Living in the technological age means our kids are missing out on some things because most of their time is spent on TV and the Internet.

Esther: With four children, you really have to be patient. I also had to tolerate a messy house and clothes and let the kids be kids.

Anthony: Once Sharis walked into a muddy puddle and panicked and started screaming because she had never stepped in mud. Just to set her at ease, I got into the puddle with her to show her it’s okay. It’s because of such incidences that I have decided to get our children out more. For instance, our project for the December holiday is fashioning toys from unconventional materials like wire, rubber and so on. The boys are enrolled at a local children’s football club, Cheza Sports Academy.

How do you discipline the kids?

Esther: We use several methods. Sometimes we spank them. Other times we will pull out a privilege that they enjoy for instance, limiting TV time or grounding them. However, we are keen to explain to them why a certain action is wrong and what should have been the appropriate behaviour, so that they understand why they are being punished.

How are you preparing your children for the future, especially at a time where Kenya is struggling to transition into a more inclusive, reformed and just nation.

Esther: We try to teach them to be responsible. Part of that has to do with teaching them the fear of God, because once they have that, their morals will remain intact. As far as the practical things of life go, we teach them that life is not easy. Starting from the time they wake up to prepare for school at 5am. Initially, I thought I was being tough on them but my mother-in-law advised me that the world is tough and the children have to be prepared to handle it.

Anthony: I use the challenges I have experienced as guidelines and lessons for my children. It was not until the other day that I learnt to appreciate that to build wealth, one has to save. These are things our parents never taught us yet they are vital life lessons. To counter that, we have started arts and crafts projects with the kids where I have taught them how to make armbands, which they sell to friends and get to save the money. Their very first soccer ball was bought with their earnings.

Was it an easy decision to have Esther become a stay-at-home mum?

Esther: I support breastfeeding exclusively for six months and it was difficult to balance that and office work. When Amani was born, just a year after Kayde, we made the joint decision for me to become a stay-at-home mum. After a short while I opened several cafes and became an entrepreneur.

Are there times you miss the corporate grind and climb?

Anthony: Running our catering business has helped us balance our work and family time. The fact that Esther is a stay-at-home mum, is a guarantee that the children not only have better care, but in case of any situation, we are able to intervene and deal with it immediately.

Esther: I don’t miss it much because I don’t think I could manage both career and family life. It’s not trendy to career men and women but my advise to other couples is, if being a stay-at-home mum is an option, go for it. No amount of money can replace that kind of care.

What are your ground rules when it comes to dealing with money?

Anthony: We agree on what is priority and work out our list. One European man once told me that African’s suffer from a culture of donation because we divide our money amongst so many people especially relatives. However, for us it’s a priority to support family including extended ones. When we got married, I realised that we had to give more money to my in-laws, as they are much older. My mother still has an income as she works. It was a point of friction initially, but we worked it out.

What has been the biggest challenge in your marriage and how have you overcome it?

Anthony: Our greatest challenge came in the form of our greatest blessing. The children. Even as we celebrated their birth, we faced another challenge and that was the low to almost lack of libido in our relationship. The situation was so bad we literally slept in separate beds. To be honest, the sexual intimacy part of our lives did not resume to its old self, until a few years ago. After doing some research, I got to understand that a woman’s body not only changes, but also needs time to bounce back after pregnancy. I chose to adjust my attitude and instead of thinking of myself, started thinking about out how to make my wife happy and more comfortable.

Esther: Connecting intimately became a challenge. We had to take so many variables into account including breastfeeding and running after the older children, which often times left me exhausted. However, after a number of fights, I realised that something had to give and we have never been more in love than we are right now.

akello@parents.co.ke

Published in December 2015

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