John Mureithi Karinga, 72, and his wife Njeri Mureithi, also 72, will celebrate 50 years of marriage on March 10, 2012. They plan to hold a thanksgiving service to celebrate this milestone. Even after so many years together, their union still sparkles with love, respect and adoration. They lovingly address each other as wanii (Kikuyu for mine). This says a lot about their relationship, as most couples their age prefer to call each other baba or mama so and so.
This couple’s marriage is a beacon of light and a safe haven for their grown up children. John exudes admirable leadership qualities and his wife a submissive nature that comes with a lot of respect and dedication. The couple shared the secret to their fulfilling marriage with FAITH MATHENGE-MURIGU from their home in Buru Buru estate, Nairobi.
It was a particularly hot and dusty afternoon when this interview was held, but the coolness of the couple’s simple but spacious home made it all worthwhile. John Mureithi, dressed in khaki pants and a stripped polo shirt, excitedly ushered me into their home where his wife of fifty years was waiting in eagerness. Lenah Mureithi, one of the couple’s children had requested Parents to feature the story of their parents’ marriage, which was an inspiration to many.
I was surprised at how open the couple was as they answered my questions. It was a fun-filled afternoon as they recounted their marriage experience from the day they met, navigating through the encounters of their fifty years together as if they happened only yesterday. Their grand daughter, Njeri Karinga, who was visiting was busy in the kitchen obviously preparing a sumptuous meal going by the sweet aromas emitted from that direction to the living room where we sat. Their home portrayed a relaxed, cheery atmosphere. The couple’s story is one of patience, compromise and love beyond measure.
Their paths meet…
John: We grew up in the same village, Huho-ini, in Nyeri County. I knew Elizabeth Njeri before we even started dating. She was famous for her hard work and good mannerisms. In those days, getting such a girl for a wife was a great asset as you were assured of a bountiful harvest. Word had it that she would cultivate her parents’ shamba from dawn to dusk without complaining. She was industrious and evidently many men were eyeing her for marriage.
She came from a large family since her father had several wives. After my primary school education in 1959, I gathered courage and approached her to be my girlfriend. I dreaded getting a negative response. In those days, girls were not easy to get as they had unshakeable principles, which they held onto. I was treading on delicate grounds. Njeri was also through with primary school education. When I expressed my interest on her becoming my girlfriend, she shyly told me she needed time to ‘digest’ the information and get back to me. That was the hardest time of my life. I feared a negative answer.
I celebrated when her answer was in the affirmative. I got a job at Kajiado District Hospital as a fee clerk in March 1960, where I worked for six months, then went to Busia and later Tororo in Uganda. I could not stay on the job for long because my Ugandan employer suspected that I belonged to the mau mau group. I became jobless in 1961.
Friendship yields love…
John: I knew from the beginning that I wanted to spend my life with Njeri. What began as innocent friendship developed into intimate love and unfortunately Njeri became pregnant. It was a shame for a girl to conceive before marriage and I had to shield her from village gossip. I was jobless but determined to take full responsibility for my action. A delegation of some men including my father went to report the incidence to Njeri’s parents. We were allowed to live as husband and wife in September 1961, and our first son was born in January 1962.
Njeri: I was intrigued by my profound friendship with John because he was my first love. His genuine love and straightforwardness captivated me. He never lied to me and always lived up to his word. When I became pregnant in 1961, he assumed full responsibility although he was jobless. My parents were furious with me. To add salt to injury, John’s family had bad blood with my family due to a pending land case. It was unimaginable that they could release their daughter for marriage to a family they had an issue with. It was tough for us and I chose to remain in our home to avoid more conflicts. Half-heartedly, my family decided to release me to John after a lot of persuasion.
Marriage then a wedding later…
John: After settling as husband and wife, I got a job as an untrained teacher in a church based school. It was a real struggle because we were very short on finances. The job eased the burden a little. It was a requirement to have solemnized your wedding in church to secure a job in such a school. My joy was short lived because I was not married in church. I was given a termination letter. Not one to loose hope, I went to my church and inquired if it was possible to have a wedding within two weeks if only to secure the job for our survival and that of our newborn son. With a positive response, we alerted the people concerned and on March 10, 1962 we had a wedding, not as colourful, but it fulfilled the job requirements. There was no honeymoon as we were already living together.
Later in our marriage, through my wife’s support, I went back for a teaching course in 1969. In November 1970, I was posted to a secondary school in Kakamega until 1971 when I got a job at Golf Course School on Mbagathi Road. I was later promoted to the position of an approved graduate and was made the principal in 1980, a position I held until retirement. I set up a business of selling new and used cars after leaving work.
The secrets to our happy marriage…
Njeri: You will be surprised that the secret to our very happy 50-year-old marriage is nothing out of the ordinary. All we have done consistently is apply biblical teachings to our union and it has worked perfectly. For example, the Bible orders the wife to submit to her husband and this means recognising your husband as the head of the family. Most marriages suffer because the wife fails to submit to her husband and jostles for power with him. This builds disagreement, as harmony cannot exist where there are two heads exercising authority. I would advise wives to take the submission command with gladness because it is a direct order from God.
John: Just like wives are commanded to submit to their husbands, men are commanded to love their wives. A husband who loves his wife will stop at nothing to make her happy. He will respect and be faithful to her. My experience of being married to one woman for 50 years has taught me that when a woman is properly loved, a man can enjoy a happy life. I have been a happy man and I love my wife every day. We have gone through a lot of joyful and painful moments together, which have further strengthened our union. It is wrong for a husband to expect love, submission and happiness from his wife if he does not shower her with love. I challenge men to treat their women well and see how happy and fulfilling their marriages will be.
Practice makes perfect…
John: I have matured a lot since I got married to my wife. I advise people who are aspiring to get married to first assess themselves before committing to the other person. Be transparent to the person you intend to marry. Do not wear any masks. From the beginning, my wife knew of my financial struggles. I consult her on most of our decisions, for example, before buying our house in Buru Buru, I had to seek her point of view about it. I have discovered with time that for one to enjoy a healthy marriage relationship, openness is key. I do not have any secrets. To my wife, my life is like an open book.
Njeri: Marriage calls for patience and sacrifice. When you decide to commit your life to somebody else, be ready to walk the talk. I believe the way a woman behaves around her house can greatly shape her marriage. I have purposed to pray for my beloved husband and children everyday, and to play my role as my husband’s supporter. I advise women to strive to be like the wife described in Proverbs 31. I have no doubt that I am a shining example to my fellow women in our neighbourhood. I like to counsel young married women on how to treat their husbands for harmony to exist in their families.
Njeri: The fact that I raised the kids most of the time because my husband was out at work does not make me the head of our family. I always reminded them that their father was the family leader and he deserved all the respect that came with the position. This included honouring him and working hard. Our family is based on Christian principles, which demand that I am John’s helper. I actually refer to myself as the neck that keeps the head and the body together, my husband being the head and our children as the body.
John: My family’s admiration and respect inspired me to work very hard to provide for them. I also decided to respect and honour my wife at all times. For, example, in our 50 years of marriage, neither have we argued in the presence of our children, nor have I raised a finger at my wife. We always find an amicable way to resolve our differences. We have never had physical fights.
Dealing with in-laws…
Njeri: It has not been a walk in the park when dealing with in laws, as they wanted to interfere with our relationship in the early days of our marriage. They would complain that I was not washing John’s clothes well and that my cooking was bad – all these accusations were intended to intimidate me. My sisters-in-law would take water that I had fetched and the food made for my husband. They would even harvest from my shamba. They made my life a living hell but I thank God that John tried his best to shield me from their scathing attacks. The only challenge is that he was working in a different town and would only come home occasionally. One ugly incidence that I remember to date is when one of my sisters-in-law poured paraffin from our lamp and refilled it with water. This was great hostility but due to the love I had for my husband, I persevered. I was happy when we relocated to Nairobi in the 1980s.
In sickness, in health…
Njeri: When I fell ill in 1982, we left our children in the village and only came with the last born who was in standard one. It was a tough time but we survived it. Our children’s education was disrupted as they shouldered all the family responsibilities for several years when I was ill.
John: My wife suffered a stroke and the doctor said that she had a few days to live. It was a tough period but I was hopeful that she would get well, and after several years of illness she was back on her feet. Our love was strengthened. Our children joined us in Nairobi in mid 1980s. Our marriage vows keep us grounded and we know it’s until death do us part. We take them seriously and are grateful to God
Njeri: I have never held a job. I have always relied on my husband for family providence. He takes his role as the family provider seriously and we have never lacked, neither have we ever had conflicts over money.
John: I bought our home in Buru Buru Phase I in 1971. I consulted my wife before buying it and we agreed that it was a good deal. We have never regretted the decision of buying the home. My wife helped me to quit drinking alcohol because it was taking quite a big chunk of the family’s income. She did not pressurise me to stop.
Njeri: When my husband was taking alcohol I never pressurised him to stop, but rather learnt to live with it as I prayed silently that the Lord would transform him. He later gave his life to Christ. We serve God together and are actively involved in various church activities. We are happy that we found each other and are grateful to God for making this possible for us.
Our parenting style…
Njeri: We have tried our best to bring up our children in a godly way. We have been open with them and also given them space to grow and be whom they want to be. All of them are married with children. Talking to children achieves better and more lasting results. Prayer is another method we use to bring them up. As a mother you must pray for your children.
John: We are proud of our children and happy to see how they have turned out. Pacias Karinga, our first-born, turned fifty years in January. He is married with children. The second born, Josephine Mureithi, passed on last year and left behind her family. The other children are Patrick Mureithi, Lenah Wambui and our last-born Bilha Muthoni who was born in 1975. We are grateful to God for their unique personalities.
Published on February 2012