Maj (Rtd) Boke Kitangita and Lucy Boke A MARRIAGE BASED ON FRIENDSHIP
Forty-four-year-old entrepreneur Maj (Rtd) Boke Kitangita and his wife Lucy Awendo Boke (41) have been married for 19 years and consider each other as best friends. They acknowledge that their friendship is at the core of their relationship. They give ESTHER AKELLO the low-down on keeping their friendship, which has contributed to a thriving marriage.
When and how did you meet?
Lucy: We met in December 1999 on the
dance floor of a club in Nairobi. It was love at first sight. Within a month, we’d moved in together.
That was fast! Was it that obvious that you were meant to be together?
Lucy: We just had chemistry. I was 23, on and off relationships and a single mother looking for someone to settle down with. The feeling was mutual. We liked the same things such as playing pool, snooker and dancing.
Boke: We moved in together after a month and formalised our union at the AG’s office a month later. Thereafter, we moved to Nanyuki when the Kenya Airforce transferred me there for official duties.
Considering you had a whirlwind relationship, how did you handle the idea of an ‘instant’ family with a son already in the picture?
Lucy: I wanted to get to know Boke and feel comfortable with him before introducing him to my son. However, within a month, my mind was made up.
It was also an easy transition for my son who was three at the time. They became fast friends – still are – and they have a bond that even I can’t penetrate at times.
Boke: Marrying someone with a child was never an issue for me. I was 26 years at the time and looking for a wife. People from my community marry at an early age so there was pressure to get married but not just to anyone. My family preferred a nurse or a teacher, you know someone ‘serious’ with life.
(Laughing), Ironically, there was nothing ‘wifely’ about Lucy.
What do you mean?
Lucy: (Laughing) We met in a club!
Nothing ‘serious’ there!
Boke: She was extremely liberal, worked as a beautician and was born and bred in Nairobi’s Eastlands. My friends objected to the relationship but my family did not take a position on the matter. I was torn between love and my socialisation. Clearly love won!
How did your parents react to your whirlwind romance?
Lucy: (Laughing) Mine were happy that I was finally settling down.
Boke: My family had been sourcing potential wives for me from ‘good homes’. But when I introduced them to Lucy, as conservative as they are, they were tolerant. While Lucy was the most frowned upon daughter-in-law then, she is now the most sought after. On the other side, her dad and I get along extremely well.
After knowing each other for only a month before settling down, what kind of surprises did you discover about each other?
Lucy: There were no major surprises as such. But the amazing thing is, Boke and I were first friends and still are best of friends. We do everything together. When friends ask him out for a drink, instead of showing up alone, he carries me along which leaves a lot of people perplexed. The curiosity became so glaring that I became conscious that maybe we were doing something wrong. I still get overwhelmed sometimes.
Boke: The fact that we didn’t really date before marriage has also helped because we were dating within the confines of marriage especially for the first six years. That’s how long our dream stage lasted. It definitely helped us bond. The friction started around the seventh year.
What was causing the friction?
Lucy: I had too much time on my hands and used it to drive Boke nuts! I’m an energetic person and while in Nanyuki, I operated two businesses: one in beauty and the other in fashion.
When Boke was transferred to Nairobi, we ended up in Utawala, which at the time was very remote. With no running water or electricity connection, I couldn’t run my businesses. I therefore started nit-picking over small things I’d never noticed before while bombarding Boke to keep up with the Joneses.
Boke: A wife with a lot of energy with little or no way to expend it can be a challenge! Sometimes you’re tired and all you need is peace but that’s when she wants to start talking! But not talking doesn’t mean you don’t love her. I did, however, start staying out late, drinking.
Lucy: Which again was a problem. I got depressed. This is a guy I hang out with almost the whole day. The kind of guy who runs home from work to hang out with his family. I later realised that when you put pressure on a man, he starts looking for ways to avoid you.
Boke: I’ve never been a stay-out-late guy and even then, I’d only disappear on Fridays in a bid to ease the pressure.
This was after Lucy and I had a conversation on the same. I think it’s good for couples to have other forums where they are free to blow steam without being policed and within reasonable limits of course.
How long did the friction last and how did you deal with it?
Lucy: Three years and after deciding to buy land in Syokimau and opening our businesses. By the time we left Nanyuki, we’d purposed to never pay rent again. The house in Utawala was actually a semi-permanent house we had built on our piece of land.
Boke: Adjusting to that life wasn’t easy. We’d moved from an upmarket estate in Nanyuki to Utawala, which was not so developed then. We even lost friends because as a military captain at the time, my lifestyle wasn’t matching my status.
However, we didn’t live in utopia and that helped us bond. It also kept us out of the rat race because the people we interacted with in Utawala were progressive, and that helped lay a foundation to exit employment.
You run the Jeff Hamilton Group of Companies. Was it a natural decision to work together in the same company?
Lucy: Very natural. I sold my businesses to help raise capital for the business. We always support each other and Boke is a go-getter. Besides, before the business, I’ve always been in charge of how we disseminate our finances, including how we dealt with loans.
Boke: My opinion is; you’re better off propelling your wife to be very successful. Personally, that is the most powerful thing you can do for her.
Her decisions then are more informed and based on availability of options and not the vulnerability of desperation, which can lead many people down a dark hole. Many people fear that when you empower a wife, she will leave or become excessively proud but I strongly disagree.
How did the challenges you faced when starting the business affect your relationship?
Boke: We had fundamental challenges. We disagreed on financial management, authority and business best practices. I was the CEO and Lucy the operations director and decisions at work found their way into the dining table. We later agreed to create a clear authority structure where my decisions as CEO were final and would not be used against me. That seemed to work and still does.
Lucy: At first I had a challenge differentiating business and personal finances, but Boke was very firm and clear about it. This provided fodder for a lot of disagreements. I however understood the principle with time and I’m happy I did.
Boke: Starting a business is not an easy thing; we had embarrassing moments, especially when looking to friends to become clients. Our finances also dipped especially the first year of business as I was not on a payroll. We had to keep to ourselves to avoid embarrassment but then that is also when we were really faithful, prayerful and our friendship really grew.
Lucy: After a while, I chose to submit to Boke’s leadership and focussed on our strengths – Boke is great at business development and financial management while I am great at people management and service delivery. This way, we played as a team but focussed on different aspects of the business. Looking back, the result has been phenomenal. Today Jeff Hamilton is one of the most respected brands in East Africa.
Has being constantly in each other’s face both at home and work been better or worse for your marriage?
Boke: Clearly better to the extent that we have no choice but to talk to each other. This way we can’t keep disagreements unresolved. Our lives are intricately interwoven together and as such, it is in our interest that our relationship works.
Lucy: It’s better because I’m able to spend more time with my husband.
Boke: Lucy has a different perspective from mine; she brings a lady’s touch to the business, her finesse is great, and so are her people’s skills. She is the human face of the business and is great with the staff. Looking back, her contribution to the business and the marriage is immeasurable. Jeff Hamilton and our marriage are much richer with her on board.
You took a marriage enrichment class. What was the inspiration behind it?
Boke: We are members of Mavuno Church. The church runs several life skills classes and Ndoa is one of them.
We first enrolled for Mizizi – which is the foundation class and Simama – an accompanying class. I then chose to do Ndoa with a motive to eventually serve as a facilitator. It is a commitment I’m yet to fulfill.
Lucy: We also wanted to finally have a white wedding and in order to do so, you have to go through the class. When we joined the programme, we realised that there were a lot of things concerning marriage that we needed to learn.
Boke: That a man must die and a wife must submit. Because of our friendship, we’ve survived crazy things without knowing what we were doing. We’ve had trust issues in the past but we managed to work things out.
Ndoa, in retrospect, helped us to put our past, present and future journey into context. In hindsight, I would recommend Ndoa to married couples.
Lucy: The biggest fallacy in marriage is that there are two people. You’re one; a team! There’s no winning or losing and if you have a plan B, you’re better off exiting a marriage.
Boke: We’ve also learnt how to fight fair. The Ndoa alumni provide an excellent marriage support system and lifelong friendships.
You have three children. How has parenting been for you?
Lucy: Our first-born, Ronny Boke, is 22; our second-born, Jerry Chacha, is 17 while our last-born, Jeff Weisiko, is 13. Parenting is definitely easier when the kids are young and you can put your foot down with little resistance.
Transitioning to teenage hood and young adults however has not been easy. We’ve struggled with Ronny quite a bit especially when it comes to education and choosing a career.
Boke: We’ve figured out the mistakes we did with Ronny. We were very liberal with him and he, unlike his siblings, had everything at his beck and call. With the younger kids,
we’ve learnt to give them just enough independence to figure out solutions to their problems.
Of course, we watch from a distance and step in where necessary. We also encourage them to work for the lifestyle they want to lead. So during the holidays, all the kids work at our offices.
Which great lessons do you want them to pick from you?
Boke: We want them to know that God grants you what you can perceive. That a man who refuses to give up can only win. For instance, Jerry wrote us a business plan for a clothing store he is interested in starting. Whether he’ll succeed or not isn’t important. What matters is that he took his time to do his research regarding his dreams.
How do you keep your spark alive?
Lucy: The fact that Boke takes care of himself keeps me attracted to him. We also do a lot of activities together and go out. Boke is spontaneous and is into surprises.
Boke: Lucy is also very pretty so it makes it easy for me to stay in shape and attractive for her.