The chilly, overcast weather makes it seem like early morning, though it’s nearly midday. A tethered goat grazes on the lush, green grass and bleats noisily, as her kid suckles. Numerous birds chip in the distance and the sound of buzzing bees, among other insects, can be heard. These are the sights and sounds I first encounter when I arrive at the Mukuha’s homestead in Kandara, Murang’a County. I am warmly welcomed into their house and introduced to some of the couple’s family members who are visiting, amid cheerful banter, steaming mugs of tea and large slices of bread graciously served by Rebecca.
A double blessing… “
There is no training for marriage. There’s nowhere you will be taken to learn how to live peacefully with your spouse,” says Julius, when we get started with the interview about an hour after my arrival. He proceeds to repeat these words severally in the course of the interview. He met Rebecca 51 years ago at Thika General Hospital where they both worked at the time. He was a physician and she worked as an untrained nurse. A relationship blossomed between them and a year and a half later they walked down the aisle at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Thika. “It was the day after the widely publicised John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which was all over the news on our wedding day,” says Julius. Nevertheless, this did not dampen the mood at their colourful wedding. Even his lovely bride, who was heavily pregnant on that special day, enjoyed herself immensely. Rebecca gave birth to her first child the very next day after her wedding. “I thought I still had two or more weeks before the birth of my daughter so it was unexpected. It was however a great blessing and there was a lot of celebration from our friends and relatives who kept saying, ‘the bride now has a child!’ So many people visited us. They considered it a great blessing for a newly wedded couple to have a child soon after their wedding,” she says.
A long-distance marriage…
With regard to starting a family, Julius and Rebecca hit the ground running, so to speak. Since they became parents barely a day after their wedding, I am curious to know how that formative stage of their marriage was. “We first lived in Thika then moved to Kandara in Murang’a after six months where I started farming on our piece of land. It was not easy adjusting to the farm life as I had lived in the city most of my life. Many people thought I wouldn’t cope well but I resolved to prove them wrong. I worked very hard and made good returns from farm produce,” says Rebecca.
Her husband was training and working in Nairobi at the time and it was difficult adjusting to life without him. Her late mother-in-law, who came to live with her, was her pillar of support during that time. Rebecca says the first few years of her marriage taught her and her husband to give love freely to one another without holding back.
Julius reiterates that there is no training for married life and that it requires a great deal of humility and the knowledge that both parties are strangers to one another and so have to adjust to one another. “Shared values are also very important. These equalize you and put you on the same page with one another,” he says.
The nature of Julius’ job required him to be away from home frequently and he would miss his wife dearly when he was away. “I think having my wife settle at our piece of land in Kandara with my mother worked well for us. She took care of our land, grew our investments and also took care our family,” says Julius.
He would visit his family every month and on holidays. “Our situation was not ideal but it worked because we were and still are friends and we loved each other dearly. I knew I wouldn’t want to do anything to hurt my friend and she felt the same way. A challenge I faced was that I had to work harder at getting to know my children because I was away a lot and they knew their mother much better than they knew me,” he says.
“Some of our friends wondered how we made our marriage work when my husband was away so much. I would say we were both very committed to the marriage and our different roles in life. I think I could have found myself caught up in many negative influences in my husband’s absence but my faith in God kept me grounded,” says Rebecca.
Julius says that when a couple gets married, they should be aware that there is no turning back. Both parties should also know and understand their roles and play them to the best of their ability. “Your friendship before you get married really matters,” he says, adding that children observe their parents’ interactions, and this is essentially why a couple should keep their disagreements and arguments away from their children.
“Marriage is something that should be treated with seriousness. There are both good times and difficult times involved, so perseverance is needed. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes and a forgiving heart is therefore important. Accept one another just as you are, correct one another in love, and don’t be quick to point out mistakes. This will help you get along well,” says Julius, adding, “Respect God and the values you hold and be considerate of one another. Do unto your spouse what you would have them do to you.”
Julius and Rebecca have differed, like most married couples do. They solve their disputes through earnest discussions. “No one is an angel. We have both made many mistakes in the course of our time together,” says Rebecca. When the couple first moved to their own piece of land, they lived in a mud house for several years before they put up the spacious house they currently reside in. Rebecca recalls the events following this being one of the serious disputes the couple has had in their marriage.
“We had lived in the mud house for quite some time and I knew at some point we could afford to build a better house because of the income we were both bringing in, but he kept procrastinating and saying there was not enough money,” she says. Rebecca would scrape the mud wall adjacent to their bed with a panga and leave the soil that would come off unswept to give the impression that the house was falling apart, much to Julius’ chagrin whenever he was home. “He would get annoyed and ask why I wasn’t fixing the walls, to which I would reply that I didn’t have the time as I was taking care of the farm and our children. We argued about this issue severally over a few months but we were eventually able to sort it out amicably and start working on our new home in the late 70s,” she says, as they both chuckle about the matter.
Enrolling for Marriage Encounter in 1985, a weekend programme designed to help married couples improve their marriage, grow closer to each other, and improve commitment to one another was very helpful to the couple. “It helped us learn and understand many issues about marriage that we did not know before,” says Julius.
Work and finances…
After they got married, the couple decided that Rebecca should leave her work as a nurse and take care of the children and the farm. “When we started rearing cows, I would sell milk. I was one of the very first people to sell milk to restaurants and households in this area. I also sold livestock and farm produce and these brought in good income for the family,” she says.
For most of his life, Julius worked as a physician in various government hospitals before setting up his own private practice in Nairobi. He retired from his practice in 2004 and joined his wife at their family farm. The couple have shared everything they own since they got married and they say unison, “There is nothing like ‘my’ money, it’s our money… Money should not be a source of strife in marriage.”
Rebecca says they have individual and joint accounts and are free to access any of the accounts as they please. “We are both not wasteful or extravagant so we have not really had an issue in this area,” she says.
Marriage in the sunset years…
Julius and Rebecca have nine children – six daughters and three sons who are all married. “I was very strict with the children as they grew up. I never took any nonsense from them. They cannot imagine I am the same person who would run after them and ensure they got a thorough disciplining whenever they misbehaved. We are friends now and can laugh about it, and they appreciate me for keeping them from going astray. God helped me a lot with instilling discipline in them. I knew if I did not put my foot down, they would give me a hard time, especially since their father was away most of the time,” says Rebecca.
“Our children knew what was expected of them. We instructed them in the way they should grow. I would have talks with them whenever I could. They were all baptised in the Catholic church, where they also went for catechism classes and took their first sacrament,” says Julius.
“Children grow up and leave. That’s one interesting aspect of marriage – you go back to where you began. It’s just the two of us now that all our children are grown-up and have their own homes. We enjoy our time together very much. We also enjoy spending time with our children whenever they visit, and also with our friends and neighbours,” he adds.
Julius currently manages the farm together with his wife. Friends who visited his homestead after his retirement and saw his flourishing farm wondered how and where he found the time to manage and grow it so well while he was working so far away from home, and he would tell them it was not him but his wife. “My wife has really taken care of and developed our farm and property. I am proud of her,” he says.
Rebecca says that someone once told her that most men do not live for very long after their retirement because their wives do not take good care of them. This is especially so, she says, in cases where wives felt neglected and grew bitter because their husbands were never there for them and their families. While this is not the case for her, she says that it is important to make an effort to take good care of one another at all times. “That way you are able to stick together, even in difficult times,” she says.
When Julius retired she was concerned about him because he never used to eat much. “I think living on his own for a long period of time had taken a toll on him. He and his colleagues in Nairobi would survive on cake and soda for a whole day. When he first came back, he would spend the whole day in the shamba and not eat the lunch I would prepare for him. So, I would send someone to call him and tell him a visitor had come to see him and when he came and asked to see the visitor, I would point to the food on the table. It would upset him, but eventually he started eating properly,” she says with a smile, as Julius is grins.
“We’re excited to be celebrating our golden jubilee. Being together for 50 years is not a small deal. We are grateful and humbled. I recently told my husband that we will also celebrate our 75th anniversary in a few years, God-willing!” says Rebecca.
In conclusion, Rebecca says, “A good union requires humility and prayerfulness. When two people get married, they come from different backgrounds with different wants and needs. You have to find a way to meet in the middle and include one another into your different lives.”
Published on November 2013