Would you call yours, love at first sight?
George: Not really, the first time I approached Julia, she told me she had more important things to do.
What were these important things?
Julia: I was supposed to travel to Dubai for work, which I did. I stayed in Dubai for 10 years, and when I came back, we got married.
Ten years is a long time!
Julia: It is! But if there is something George has, it is patience. It is a trait that I admire in him to this date. The fact that he waited that long and was not relenting drew me to him.
George: While she was away we both tried different relationships but they did not work. I had my eyes fixed on just her. Towards the end of her stay in Dubai, we used to communicate via email and pretty much had a long distance relationship. When she came back, we got married and settled down.
Did you ever get any opposition considering that George you are Luo while Julia is Kikuyu?
George: From the immediate family, no but some of my friends were not for the idea. Her family loved me, to this date Julia’s dad and I are close. Julia and my mum are also so close.
Julia: My family considered him one of us even before we got married. It is friends that sometimes had an issue, especially during elections time. They would say vile things about my community on social media, knowing so well that I could see what they posted.
George: The thing is, we always shield each other from attacks. When I go to her place, she has my back; when she comes to my place, I always make sure nobody attacks her.
Speaking of elections, do those periods affect you?
George: We think very little of our political differences. We often wonder what makes people so impassioned when it comes to elections that they fail to be reasonable. For the most part, we stay indoors when the world is spewing hatred outside. We do not let it get to us.
Julia: Politics and our family are two entirely different entities. We might not support the same political candidates but that is an individual choice. This one time back in 2007, I found myself in a matatu with armed youths who were en route to a violent demonstration.
They started asking everyone aboard what their tribe was. I was expecting my second child then. I explained to them that the father of the child I was carrying belonged to their tribe. They even called George to confirm it. It should never get to that point.
Intermarriage can sometimes cause a culture clash? Did that affect you?
Julia: Yes, a little bit. My community believes children should be swathed in layers of clothing. So when my husband’s relatives came to see our children, they would insist that too many clothing would suffocate my babies. My people on the other hand would get shocked when I did not dress my babies in multiple layers. They said I would freeze them to death.
George: We just found a middle point. When my relatives were coming over, she would dress the babies moderately. When hers were coming over, the layers it was, and at the end of the day everyone was happy.
The food part was also a bit tricky considering most Luos do not like carrots, peas, potatoes and peas whilw most Kikuyus relish that combo. We had to come up with a compromise that accomodated us both.
How is it raising kids in such a setup?
Julia: We made sure we gave all our children ethno-neutral names. Our first-born is Sifa Nyalawi, our late second-born’s name was Pendo Sulwe and our last-born is Hawi Uzima.
George: We have raised our kids as Kenyans. If you ask them what tribe they belong to, they will tell you they are Kenyans.
You mentioned having lost a child; that must have been a very tough time for you.
Julia: It was; it is one of the worst things that ever happened to us. We lost him just one week after he was born. Such tragedies can cause a marriage to end, as it is easy to start pointing fingers. In our case, it brought us even closer.
George: What hurt me the most was seeing how much the experience hurt Julia. She had delivered via Caesarean section. She had a painful wound but no baby to show for it. It was such a painful episode and seeing her like that unnerved me.
How was the healing process like?
George: We refused to hide from our pain; we faced it head on. When we felt like crying, we cried. We had bought a whole suitcase of clothes for our baby. We would open the suitcase, look at the clothes and just cry together. We would do it again and again until the pain subsided.
Julia: People would tell me not to cry because I was young and would get other kids. They just did not get it, much as they were trying to help. Eventually I spoke to two women who had been through the same experience. Hearing their stories made me realise I was not alone. They told me to do what I had to do to feel better – be it crying, screaming, talking; they asked me to not hold the pain back. That helped me a lot.
George, people wrongly assume men do not grieve, was that the case for you?
George: Strangely, it was. People would come home to condole with us, and the focus would be on my wife. I had also lost my baby! But I soon settled into a routine of helping and supporting my wife. Just being able to help her through it made me heal, too. Plus, we had this neighbour who I spoke to quite regularly. He helped me put many things into perspective.
Julia: Such tragedies can bring out the worst in people. Things were said that further broke my heart. Some people said we were cursed because of our different tribes and that we ought to pray harder. What stuck with me was how much better I felt when I spoke to women who had been through what I had been through. That is why I started a Facebook page, Precious Mums, for mums who have lost babies. We get to encourage one another and let grieving mums know they are not alone.
How would you describe marriage from your own experience?
Julia: Marriages are not easy. If you grew up with siblings, you must have disagreed with them quite often. If you can disagree with your immediate family members, what makes you think you will not disagree with someone you just met and never grew up with? There are bound to be conflicts.
George: I usually say if you stay in marriage for three months, that alone is an achievement for which you deserve a certificate. We also have to make a conscious effort to live within our means and guide our children as such.
Julia: The one challenge that I had initially was submitting to George. The Bible says wives should submit to their husbands, but I had lived alone in a different country for almost a decade, making my own rules and not being answerable to anyone. The prospect of having to inform another person my every move did not sit well with me, I had to learn along the way.
How do you placate one another when you are angry?
George: I don’t poke the issue and aggravate her any further.
Julia: I let him be, but he can be so quiet, so I sometimes try to get him to talk.
So what is your family’s umbrella approach to settling differences and dealing with conflict?
Julia: Communication in marriage is very important. If you communicate, you will get to the bottom of the issue. We are married to human beings, not angels who can read minds. Besides, George is a very patient man and I have learned from him to look at things soberly. Before, I used to be the kind of person who would create a fuss and shout when things did not go my way. When you are shouting and making a scene but the other person is so calm and composed, you look like the crazy one. So I had to learn to calm down, too.
George: Sometimes the easiest way is to just ignore things that are not serious. Conflicts arise and marriages break over the simplest of reasons, something as small as toothpaste. (Looks at his wife and both laugh)
Julia: Early in our marriage, we used to squabble over toothpaste. I squeeze the toothpaste tube from anywhere, but he thinks it has to be squeezed strategically; and when I am done I do not place the tube where it should be. It used to get on his nerves. His perfectionist ways also used to get to me.
George: I realised that the fact that I am a perfectionist is my problem, not hers, so I had to deal with it. If I find the toothpaste or any other thing out of order in the house, I arrange it the way I like it. I use the same approach in many other things and that way I avert a lot of conflict.
What pulls you back when you are on the brink?
Julia: We have a policy in our house – you can pack, but you cannot leave. I can pack and go to the kitchen, to the shops, to the living room, but I can never pack and leave the house. We always stay and find a solution.
George: I always remember what I have to lose. We have a family and beautiful children who I know will be greatly affected if we dare separate. There is the Church to take care of. Being a pastor with Kenya Assemblies of God, it is manadatory that you don’t divorce. We have so much to lose and that is what pulls us back from the brink.
What would be your advice for couples that are looking to get married?
George: I strongly suggest marriage counselling. When these young people want to get married, we have to beg them to come for counselling. They have no time for it – they would rather focus on planning expensive weddings. When the marriage is crumbling, that is when they come looking for us. Why wait till things are bad to start looking for solutions?
Julia: A marriage that has God at the center of it is a strong marriage. Also, young couples should give marriage counselling a shot so they know what they are getting themselves into, what to expect and how to settle differences. For couples who are intermarrying, try as much as possible not to let external forces influence you. At the end of the day you have to realise that this is your family and make the best decisions regardless of what others in either side of the family think. That should be their problem not yours.