Lois and John Mwangi recently won recognition in a unique contest held to select Kenya’s most outstanding couple. They share the secrets behind the longevity and happiness of their 49-year-old marriage, with FAITH MATHENGE-MURIGU.
John Mwangi, 74, held his 70-year-old wife Lois Mwangi’s hand on Mashujaa Day of 2011 as they savoured the glory of being nominated ‘couple of the year’ at a unique event held to mark one of Kenya’s grandest wedding anniversary celebrations.
The challenge and later celebrations held at Oak Place along Kiambu Road were organised by Martin Muli of Paradise Bubbles, an events organising company based in Nairobi. It was the culmination of a process driven through the company’s website, www.grandwedding.co.ke that searches for Kenya’s most admired couple and rewards them with a grand anniversary celebration. The 2011 edition, the first one, was won by John and Lois in recognition of their marriage of 49 years, during which time they have learned to depend on and love each other without inhibition.
When Parents met the couple for this interview at their home in the leafy Nairobi suburb of Karen, it was evident that although much water had passed under the bridge since their youth, they were still very much in love and enjoying their marriage. They still call each other ‘honey’ and ‘darling’ and only use their formal names for introductions.
“We have been married for 49 years and we owe our success in marriage to the good communication channels we have created in our union,” Lois says.
The couple has four children, one girl and three boys. The first-born, Anthony Kimani, 48, and his wife are medical doctors working and living with their children in the U.S. Second-born, Ian Kiyuka, 46, is married and self-employed. Third-born, Carole Wangui, 45, is the country manager at Institute of Advanced Technology (IAT), Kenya, and last born, Noel Kamanga, 35, lives in the U.S. with his family.
Lois and John met in 1958 soon after Lois completed form four and John was a medical student at the Medical Training College, Nairobi. Lois was a friend to one of John’s sisters and had shown him her picture. John thought she was beautiful and wrote her a love letter after seeing the picture, even before meeting her. However, Lois did not take him seriously, as she thought he was one of the many admirers who were struck by her beauty.
John: I remember at age 14 drawing a picture of the woman I wished to marry when I grew up – she had to be beautiful, with long hair, beautiful legs, of medium build and honest – unknowingly, a complete description of Lois. I knew getting such a girl was going to be difficult and I resorted to prayer, seeking God’s divine intervention. I never used to hang out with my age mates but chose to be with men older than me, some as old as my grandfather. Having lost my father at a young age, I needed wisdom from my elders, which made me responsible at a very early age.
Lois: I had many secret admirers who liked me because they thought I was beautiful. However, deep within my heart, I wanted a man who would love me for who I was not just for my beauty.
John: I was brought up in Murang’a. I remember my sister bringing Lois to visit my auntie one day and I happened to be around. On setting eyes on her, I literally felt a sharp pain cut through my stomach. I was dumbfounded by her beauty and just stared at her. After that encounter, I was disturbed because I did not know how to get her. She had this magnetism that made my body weak all over. I wondered if she would take me seriously if I revealed the deep feelings I had for her.
I got a chance to talk to her some time later and we became friends. Not wanting her to slip through my fingers, I gave her a ring after three months of meeting even before making a proposal. I opened my heart to her and revealed my love for her. She was about to join college in that year (1960) and I was afraid I would lose her to someone else if I did not move quickly. We became so close that we would walk hand without a care in the world, to the amazement of the whole village. People would come out of their houses to take a look at these two lovebirds. We enjoyed each other’s company and would go to solitary places and talk for hours on end.
I remember popping the big question – “will you marry me?” – just before Lois was set to join college and her response threw me off balance. She retorted furiously that she would never marry in her lifetime. That made me even more determined to make her my wife. I would visit the school where she worked as an untrained teacher on the pretext of borrowing a book, but all I wanted was to get a glance of her. Despite her saying no to my proposal, I still visited her parents to ask for their daughter’s hand in marriage. They hand no objection but there was a proviso – Lois must first complete college.
Lois: I joined St. Marks College, Embu in 1960. We kept our relationship alive by exchanging many letters. As I got to know John, I was convinced he was the best choice of man for me. We courted for three years and married on September 8, 1962 after my graduation.
John: By the time Lois completed college, I had already graduated and was working. We had a very colourful wedding through the support of friends and family. It was the happiest day of my life – walking out of church holding in my arm the woman I truly loved. With our marriage sealed, we started the long journey we have walked together.
Coping with challenges…
John: At the beginning of our marriage, I was not good at communicating with my wife. I would at times come home very tired from work and remain silent. My wife, who has a happy soul, would struggle to find out what was wrong with me. She helped me learn to express myself instead of leaving her guessing and with time, my communication skills improved. Another challenge we encountered in the early days of our marriage was carrying the burden of educating our siblings. We are both firstborns in our respective families and helping our parents was expected of us. We are grateful we made sacrifices because all the siblings we helped have excelled in different fields.
Lois: My husband was raised a Catholic and I was raised an Anglican. Ordinarily, I was expected to convert to his faith. This was tough because I was used to our church and did not find Catholicism interesting. However, we agreed to continue worshipping in our different churches. Of course this was not easy but we did not allow it to draw us apart. Our children were baptised in the Catholic Church and later joined the Anglican Church where they attended Sunday school. As they grew up, our children got bored with both churches and joined the Nairobi Pentecostal Church (NPC), Valley Road.
With time, we also started attending NPC Valley Road to accompany our children. There was tremendous growth in our faith when we joined this church. My husband became a born-again believer and started serving in various capacities in the church. Later, when NPC Karen was opened, we moved there and have been worshipping there since.
John: It is important for couples to agree on matters of faith because this can be a contentious issue in marriage. Growing spiritually as a family is important. The best attitude in our marriage is that it is until ‘death do us part’ and therefore nothing can separate us and no challenge is too big.
Secrets to a happy marriage…
Lois: Our communication channels are always open. Our governing bible verse has been 1Corinthians 13:4-8, which is commonly read at weddings: “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
John: We trust and seek ways to please each other. It works wonders when we call each other pet names such as ‘honey’ or ‘darling’, a habit we have carried from our dating days. Our family is a closely-knit one where all have a chance to express their emotions. We involve our children in all family decisions.
Lois: I was brought up in a closely-knit family where I saw my father protect my mother and shower her with unconditional love. He also loved us greatly. My mother taught me about submission and I must confess that I have enjoyed a healthy relationship with my husband by being submissive to his authority as the head of the family.
John: Our children added so much joy to our union and growth of our love. When they were young, we disciplined them together.
Lois: My husband has been a loving father. When the children were young, he helped to feed them, change diapers and tuck them in bed. That got people talking as they thought he was being coerced to do it, but it did not deter him. John has always taken his parental responsibilities seriously. He has never withheld financial support from us. We have operated a joint account since we got married.
John: I always consult with my wife on major and minor issues, which has enhanced our love over the years. My wife quit teaching and joined Caltex Oil Company where she worked for a few years before joining me in our pharmacy business in 1975. Working with her helped us to be transparent, even in money matters.
We made a conscious decision right from the beginning to love each other and make our marriage a happy one. We advise young people who are dating to know each other properly before committing their hearts, as this lays a solid foundation for the future.
Trust and praise…
Lois: We trust each other and strive to live within our means. We bought our home in Karen in the late 1960s and have built it to what it is today. We keep our home affairs private to avoid outside interference. We also live a life of contentment and gratefulness to God. My husband is a selfless giver. There are times he gives me money to shop for a family car and then lets me drive the new car and takes over the old one. It helps to have confidence in each other in a relationship. My husband and I are the best of friends.
Praise is important in marriage. If women would value and appreciate the masculine strength of their husbands, they would experience peace and greater love. Men love to be praised as this motivates them to work harder.
Sex and faithfulness…
Lois: We have never suspected each other of unfaithfulness. I am a counsellor and deal with many people yet my husband trusts me fully. We are both committed to our marriage. You must guard your marriage from gossip and confront any problems that may arise. Be faithful, as sexual sin is a marriage killer. If your spouse is unfaithful, remain faithful to honour God. For us, sex is for love. If there is a disagreement, we talk it over. I have never used sex as a weapon to extract a favour from my husband.
John: We agreed to avoid the silence treatment in our marriage. I still cannot sleep with a grudge and I look for the earliest opportunity for us to talk things over. I also can’t find sleep if my wife is unwell or angry. I make all effort to keep her happy and fulfilled.
The couple practice what they call ‘press conference’ and ‘parliament’ methods of resolving family issues. For the press conference, they assemble their children at the dinner table and encourage them to speak up on issues bothering them. The parliament method is used to resolve bedroom issues, away from the children.
Published in January 2012