For a couple married for 15 years, George and Mary Gitonga, both 45, have seen it all – almost. From the word go, they have had trying times including surviving a long distance relationship, unemployment and a miscarriage. Instead of breaking them, these challenges reinforced their love and commitment to each other. They speak to ESTHER AKELLO on the power of sacrifice, overcoming challenges and growing in love.
When George and Mary Gitonga speak, it is easy to assume they have had a good run in their marriage. They are blessed with two boys. They also run successful businesses together including their school, God’s Will Academy in Imara Daima Estate, Nairobi County. They cut the picture of a family that has had it easy all through, but it is when you start to scratch the surface that you really get to appreciate their journey.
The year was 2000. Mary, a teacher working with an international school in Tanzania, had gone down on her knees asking God to give her a spouse. And she had a time frame – within seven months.
Little did she know that the plan had already been set in motion when one day, a friend of hers called from Nairobi to tell her that he, along with other members of his church, would be in Dar-es-Salaam for a mission for a couple of days. Eager to catch up with someone from home, Mary geared up to meet her friend. It was then that she was introduced to George.
By the third day of the mission, Mary and George had exchanged contacts. Their small chitchat during the mission would eventually evolve into long distance reverse calls once George travelled back to Kenya and soon enough, feelings developed.
“Four months after we met, George told me he was interested in courting me with the intention of marriage. But as far as I was concerned, it was not an agreeable plan and I flatly refused,” says Mary.
A conquered heart
George, then 28, and under immense pressure to settle down from friends and family alike, was determined to woo Mary. After two months of intense outings in Nairobi, several missions to Tanzania, numerous text messages and gifts, Mary buckled and said yes to George’s courtship proposal.
“I enjoy being loved and George’s actions proved he was serious. Additionally, he was God-fearing and honest, which I really valued and appreciated,” says Mary. The honesty that Mary alludes to is in reference to the fact that George did not have a secure job, which he was open about. This predicament would haunt them well into their marriage.
At the time, George, a trained mechanical engineer, was doing odd jobs as a videographer and also got a small stipend from his church in appreciation of his service, having been actively engaged in the church’s activities. Still, his earnings proved just enough to sustain his basic needs. Mary still accepted his marriage proposal despite being cognisant of George’s situation.
They decided to take two years to plan their wedding. Among the key issues of concern was whether they would have a long distance marriage as Mary was based in Tanzania and George in Nairobi. They decided that Mary would move back home.
“I was scared because I did not have another job and neither did George,” exclaims Mary. Despite her apprehension, consistent re-assurance from George saw her resign from her job, two weeks before the wedding.
On December 14, 2002, the couple exchanged their vows at PEFA Church, Gikomba, which was a dream come true considering just a month earlier, George had been staring down the barrel of a gun.
“On the morning of our pre-wedding party, we were carjacked by robbers who stripped us of most of our belongings including phones and Ksh 9,000 raised by well-wishers in our village as contribution for the pre-wedding fundraising. In the ensuing melee, they shot a matatu driver and were about to shoot us as well before realising they had caused quite a commotion and attracted undue attention to themselves and fled,” recounts George.
Although traumatised, the robbery was not enough to dampen their spirits and the pre-wedding party successfully raised Ksh 180,000. George, however, did not tell Mary about the incident until several days later, much to her annoyance.
Tides of change
Three months into their marriage, the couple conceived their first child, Levi Mutitu, now 11 years old. At about the same time, Mary got a teaching job. Given that she was the only one with a stable income at the time, the responsibility of taking care of the household expenses fell on her. The couple resolved that they would be open about their finances and George would be the decision maker on how the money was spent. According to Mary, who bases her role as a wife on submission as articulated in the Bible, there was no question as to who was the authority in the family. A gesture that George says has made his love for her only grow stronger, as it depicts just how much Mary respects his role as a husband.
“Many couples subconsciously hold on to personal finances, property and goals they had when they were single, failing to realise that once you are in a marriage, your identity changes from ‘I’ to ‘we’. This attitude can spell doom for any marriage,” says the couple.
The couple says finances have never been an issue in their marriage. They put all their cards on the table, including the pin numbers to all their accounts and consult each other on their goals, budgeting and spending. As for men who have an issue with their wives earning more than them, George has a word of advice, “You have to adopt a positive attitude. The fear that one will be emasculated should not rule your relationship. Infact, it is more of a blessing because women always put their family’s needs first,” says George.
Come December 2003, it was good news all round. The couple welcomed Levi into the world and George got a job as a salesman. Mary resigned from her job following work constraints and became a stay-at-home mom albeit short-lived as five months later, she got an even better job as a headmistress at a private school.
Tragedy and vindication
Life, it seemed, was bliss until the unthinkable happened. George lost his job in 2009. The family was forced to re-jig their priorities and it was agreed that George would fall back on his odd jobs while Mary was back to providing for the family. Things were sorted or so it seemed. A month after George lost his job so did Mary. A gruesome predicament by all standards considering they now had mouths to feed after the birth of their second son, Ernest Kiambati, now eight years old.
However, in a stroke of luck or call it divine intervention, on that same day, the landlord of the property housing Mary’s former place of employment heard of her fix, sought her out and made an outrageous proposal: “He dared me to open a daycare centre and even went out of his way to identify premises within the area where I could start this venture. I did not think much about the proposal until a parent who had come to pay school fees at the school where I used to teach overheard of my predicament and started looking for me as well. On hearing the proposal of starting a daycare centre, he offered to not only enroll his two children as my first clients, but also offered his huge garage as premises within which to start the daycare. Not only that, he also offered me a van with which to ferry the children to and from the school,” she explains.
Deciding to take their future in their own hands, Mary and George jumped at the offer. With a lot of support from friends and family, the couple opened a daycare centre within a month. Over the years, the daycare has expanded in its curriculum, pupil’s numbers and space, and is now a full-fledged school, God’s Will Academy, with 100 pupils and 10 staff members. George has since stepped out of the school’s day-to-day management having started his own car importation business. He is, however, on call whenever needed.
The couple says being each other’s support system through thick and thin has been the pillar of their marriage. As far as intimacy is concerned, they say it is multifaceted. They are keen to celebrate each other’s milestones and go out by themselves on occasion just to talk. They also take the opportunity to spend time together praying and sometimes while doing even the most mundane of activities such as going to the bank. Mary confesses to calling George numerous times to keep her company when she remains behind at school after hours. George obliges.
Sharing parenting and family responsibilities
Parenting takes up a huge chunk of their lives. Most days, it is George who supervises the boys evening programme including bath time, homework and dinner, as Mary remains behind to deal with issues at the school. “I know she has a lot on her plate so it is for me to chip in and make things work at home,” says George.
As a family, they take their time to go out of town every holiday just to have fun and bond. As a personal rule, George has made it his mission to be close to the boys.
“I am very pleased when I see them together because as a father and as a man, I have confidence that George is moulding them into wholesome and responsible individuals,” Mary says.
While the couple wished to have more children, Mary suffered a miscarriage two years ago during the third month of her pregnancy. Despite this tragedy, the couple says another child is still an option. The couple takes care of Cecilia Muringe, now 28, who came into their lives when she was looking for work as house help after completing the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education and her parents couldn’t afford to pay for high school education. She is now considered as part of the family and the boys refer to her as their sister. She works at the school with Mary and has a salary like all other staff members.
To keep their marriage strong, Mary and George also counsel other couples saying it gives them a chance to assess how their marriage is doing and remind them of their commitment to each other.
“Our experiences in marriage have made us stronger and better and if given another chance we wouldn’t change a thing,” the couple concludes.
PUBLISHED MAY 2015