Elijah Waichanguru Muhoya, 50, is an electrical technician at the Sports Stadia Management Board. His wife Jane Wambui, 49, is a teacher at SSD Primary School in Nairobi’s and also a postgraduate student, studying for a master of science in human resource management at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). Elijah and Jane also run several businesses together. The amiable couple shares with EDNA GICOVI about the glue that has held them together for the past 25 years.

“Does ironing my shirt make me less of a man?” Elijah asks as his wife Jane, seated next to him, laughs quietly to herself. I shake my head in response. It does not make him less of a man, especially if he does it better than his wife, as he claims. In fact, he will iron her clothes as well, when she needs him to.

While a man undertaking domestic duties like ironing may be a bone of contention for another couple, it is a non-issue for them because they both realise that expectations in marriage need to be reviewed and adjustments made with time. “We realised early into our marriage that I iron clothes better than my wife does, so I usually do it,” says Elijah unassumingly. Jane only smiles at his remark.

Our interview takes place at the Parents offices, where the couple was gracious enough to meet me. Elijah is evidently the more outspoken of the two, while Jane, though seemingly reserved, opens up much more as we carry on.

An ever-present husband…

It took more than Elijah’s ironing skills to attract Jane. The two come from the same area in Nyeri, though Jane’s family moved away, leaving behind some of their extended family members whom they would visit often. Jane caught Elijah’s eye during one such visit to her grandmother. “She is beautiful and I really admired her,” he says adding that though he never had a checklist of qualities he thought his future wife should possess, he hoped she would be just like Jane.

“I had just finished high school when I met him. He was friends with one of my uncles and when we met, he insisted on us being friends,” Jane says with a chuckle. Not too long after, the two started dating, a period that had its ups and downs. The couple share that they encountered various differences that would at times lead them to break up for months, though they would always resolve things and get back on track.

Elijah humorously mentions an interesting feature Jane had, that enabled him to save a considerable amount of money during their dates. “Most of the ladies then when taken out, would have chips, chicken and a soda but Jane never used to eat chicken. This was good for me because chicken was expensive and I saved a lot of money,” he says.

They dated for five years before deciding to tie the knot. The couple barely had enough to fund their wedding. “When we announced our intentions, some friends discouraged Jane. They asked her why she didn’t look for a man because I was just a boy to them at the time. I was newly employed and training to be an electrical technician. I was struggling to make ends meet and they wanted her to be with someone who had a good job, a car and property,” says Elijah.

This was however not a deterrent for Jane. “I had seen many unhappy ladies married to rich men and some of these marriages eventually broke, so marrying a wealthy man was never my motivation,” she says. She had always prayed for a husband whom she could be happy with and who would always be present.

“I wanted us to bring up our children together, even without the luxuries. I would much rather have that than someone who would buy me a big house and a big car, and is never there for me. I am thankful because God gave me just what I desired,” she adds.

Elijah and Jane go married on December 10, 1988 at a simple but joyous ceremony in their home area. They are both eagerly looking forward to their silver jubilee this month. “He needs to take me for two honeymoons, the one we never had and one for our anniversary,” says Jane, and they both laugh at her comment.

The couple already had a three-month-old son by the time they got married. Shortly after their wedding, Elijah had to head back to Mombasa for a two-year course he had started a few months earlier.

Jane was both a new wife and mother trying to adjust to a new home and family, as she was now living at Elijah’s homestead and teaching at a local primary school. “Dealing with in-laws, especially as a newly-wed was not very easy. We both had very different ways of doing things but I was able to handle my situation with a lot of wisdom, despite going through tough times while trying to adjust,” she says.

Her in-laws, however, were accommodative and she grew close to both her late father-in-law and mother-in-law, whom she now refers to as her mother-in-love. She also received a lot of support and encouragement from her husband, even in his absence.

‘Hustling’ together…

Following the completion of Elijah’s training, the young family moved to Nairobi where he had been posted to work at the ministry of public works. “In the first few years of marriage, one of the most common problems for many couples is finances, which was also our biggest challenge. I was fresh from training, earning about Ksh 1500 and had just had brought my family to Nairobi. We could only afford a single room,” he says.

Elijah and Jane were nevertheless optimistic that things would look up for them and did their best to improve their standard of living. They were motivated by the fact that they were still young and working towards their shared goals, one significant one being a home of their own.

“When we came to Nairobi, we started some businesses to supplement our income. I started selling second-hand clothes and then rice from Mwea, and later on started catering and baking cakes. We always did all we could to support one another,” says Jane. Elijah would buy, repair and resell used vehicles, later on getting into car importation business. Presently, aside from his regular job, Elijah is a contractor who does rural electrification, among other businesses.

The couple have avoided conflicts regarding finances by maintaining openness about all financial matters, both as a couple and with their children. “Issues to do with money are always discussed openly. None of us goes behind the other’s back. We also help our extended families when we can. I am the first-born in my family, and we have educated some of my siblings,” says Jane.

Bedroom, not courtroom…

Elijah and Jane made a critical decision early in their marriage. They would not involve a third party to resolve their issues, unless it was absolutely necessary. They also deal with their issues outside of their home, away from the presence of their children and other people.

“We decided not to make our bedroom a courtroom. When we have a very serious issue we want to deal with, we will go out, look for a comfortable and private place to settle our scores and will not go back home unless everything is resolved, even if it means sleeping outside our home,” says Elijah.

Jane adds that they have made their bedroom a haven of happiness, hence their decision not to use it as a courtroom. “Because of this, no one knows when we are arguing or not in good terms. Infact some of our family members think that we never argue,” she says.

The couple attributes the longevity of their marriage to a friendship that has matured over the years. “My wife has always been on my side and shielded me even when I was wrong. Being my friend, nothing is very difficult for her to do for my sake, and I for her sake,” says Elijah, adding that friends go out of their way to support one another and are able to forgive one another many times.

Jane says that their friendship grew a great deal when their two children were younger and in boarding school. This gave them a chance to have their home to themselves and learn how to coexist peacefully. “We really wanted to make our home a comfortable place where both of us looked forward to coming to in the evening after work,” she says.

Earlier in their marriage Jane recalls bottling up a lot of negative emotions, which made her suffer from stomach ulcers from time to time. Even so, the couple has committed to always keeping their communication channels open and following the bible’s advice – ‘do not let the sun go down on your anger.’ “We talked about it and I made a commitment to communicate. Now, whenever I’m not happy with something, I’m able to communicate it to him and he does the same,” she says.

Parenting together…

The couple has two children, Eric Mbau, 25, and Cynthia Wanjiru, 19. Eric was studying water and environmental engineering and graduated in June this year, while Cynthia just completed her high school education.

Jane says that parenting is very fulfilling when done together with one’s spouse and is grateful for Elijah’s support and presence. She adds that it’s also necessary to be in agreement on parenting styles and discipline matters. “We decided that our children will be our friends from the very start so that we are able to guide them,” says Elijah.  He goes on to say that it’s certainly not always a smooth ride and many times children will upset you by the things they do.

The couple feel that bringing up a daughter is more challenging than a son, especially in the rocky teenage years. “When my daughter became an adolescent, I felt like she had some issues that I could not handle and would refer her to her mother,” Elijah says.

He was nonetheless determined to maintain a close relationship with her, so that she wouldn’t have any voids in her life that she tried to fill in a manner that would be detrimental to her. “When I can, I will take her out to meet her friends and even wait for her,” he says adding, “At the end of the day friendship with one’s children really counts.”

The couple have also brought up several other children in addition to their own. “Many times, we have someone in our house that we are helping. Some are relatives, while others are just people we reach out to. We support needy children when we can, some with the help of Elijah’s mother,” says Jane.

“My mother helped so many needy people when we were growing up and continues to do the same even in her old age. My wife and I have taken after her,” says Elijah. Jane, who shares Elijah’s heart for people, feels that this is one of the factors that have brought them closer.

Made for one another…

“In the beginning, both of us were naïve and did not know how to handle intimacy because it’s not something you get experience on, like a job,” says Elijah with a grin. He brings up the importance of friendship once again, this time mentioning it as a key factor in keeping the fire of marital intimacy burning. “Your spouse is your friend and partner, not your competitor, and friends go out of their way for each other,” he says.

“We have been friends and companions for the past 25 years and we are working towards the same goals, which makes us even closer,” says Jane, adding that they once lived in an estate where their neighbours described them as ‘the couple that is always together’. “A lot of times, we find ourselves looking for one another during the day and in the evening head home together though we don’t work in the same area. We also serve together at our church,” she says.

Elijah adds that as a couple, it is necessary to understand that you were made for one another so that you learn to be there for each other. “We are growing older now and our children will be leaving home soon, so it will just be the two of us once again. It will even be more important for us to know what is interesting and pleasing for both of us,” he says.

In conclusion, Jane says that it is vital for spouses to have a good knowledge of each other. This only comes from a close and deliberate walk with one another and enables a couple to coexist in a gratifying and mutually beneficial union. To young couples, she stresses the great need for patience with one another.

“Don’t be so quick to walk away from your marriage because of a difficult issue. Learn to communicate well and solve your issues together,” she says.

Published in December 2013