What attracted you to each other?
Harriet: I was a 20-year-old fashion and design student at Evelyn’s College of Design here in Nairobi when I met Karl. It was my birthday and my friends had taken me out. We bumped into each other and started talking.
Karl: When you meet someone, you either click or you don’t. Even then, there’s no guarantee it will develop into anything. We clicked from the word go and we just took it from there.
Harriet: It was wonderful. It’s like we had known each other for a long time. We appreciated the same things and we really went straight into conversation as opposed to flirting.
Did you anticipate a life on the move given the nature of Karl’s career?
Karl: I knew I wanted to travel but I didn’t know to which extent. Back then, I also didn’t know exactly what was next in my life; I just knew there was a next. Shortly after we met, a work opportunity opened up in Zambia and I moved.
Harriet: When the love euphoria subsided, reality checked in. Karl’s work as a food and beverage manager meant he kept long hours, Sunday to Sunday and it took me a while to adjust. When Karl moved to Zambia, I thought our relationship would end because of the distance but he said he’d come back to see me and he did and we’ve been adjusting to make our family and relationship work ever since.
Karl you never wanted to get married or have kids. What changed your mind?
Karl: I absolutely disliked children then and wouldn’t even consider any functions where children were in attendance. However, family values always remained a big deal to me and since one goes through different phases in life, one is allowed to change their mind. I proposed a year later because it felt like the right thing and time to do.
Harriet: When Karl proposed, I remember asking him not to change me. I was also clear that I wanted children. I didn’t want him to feel tricked should I get pregnant.
What fears did you have that prompted you to ask not to be changed?
Harriet: I’m ambitious and I wanted to build my career and travel. A year after moving to Zambia, I started my own brand, designing for the Southern Africa market – Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. I never wanted to feel like I’d missed out on an opportunity so we decided not to have children immediately and I maximised on that time. But even after having children, I never let that stop me from accomplishing whatever it was I wanted to do. I never neglected my dreams or myself, I just reinvented myself, learning new things about myself. That is not to say it’s been easy. It’s been interesting making a home everywhere we’ve lived, but I’ve never seen having children as a barrier to achieving my goals.
Speaking of goals, you’ve just launched a fashion and lifestyle magazine, FAB. What’s the inspiration behind that?
Harriet: I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done and every time we relocate I always find myself serving that country be it charity work, church volunteering or in the arts as a whole. God always puts me somewhere. FAB started out as an online curation of worldwide items I loved to collect and then a friend suggested I print it as a magazine and so here we are.
Karl: Harriet’s career endeavours are a priority for both of us. Every time an opportunity for her to study or work abroad comes up it’s never a discussion. We just re-arrange our travelling calendars and make it work. I know she has made sacrifices for us as a family so I’m really excited about her new venture FAB and to watch it grow.
You struggled a bit before you had your first child. What was the issue?
Harriet: We had tried for three years to get a child before our first-born Alexander was born. I suffered from fibroids and a previous appendicitis operation had affected my tubes. But despite a reverse operation to mend the tubes, the damage was still severe and we thus struggled.
Karl: I knew the situation pained and worried Harriet so whatever she wanted to do, I always supported her. We sought doctors and even attended appointments together.
Harriet: We tried IVF but it didn’t work and just when I’d decided to make peace with the struggle, believing that God would provide in his own perfect time, I became expectant.
And now you have four. Tell us more about them
Harriet: They’re all different but now that I look at them, I think they just picked up on the characteristics I exhibited when I was pregnant.
Karl: Alexander, our first-born, is 18 and very intellectual. He runs a business with friends but he understands he still has to finish his studies. Daniel, 16, is very much like me; competitive, abrupt, studious and charming. He’s sporty as well. Joshua, 14, is very much in his own world but also loves our attention and is obsessed with football. He’s very supportive of his younger sister and our last-born, Jemima. Mima’s competitive but has also inherited her mother’s fashion streak. She’s 11 and very energetic.
How have you each balanced your parenting roles?
Karl: We always moved together to any country I worked in. As a personal rule, when all the babies were born, I took the first week off to be available for Harriet and the children. I helped with the diaper changes and sleep routines. As they grew, I would go to the movies with them, play and even coach their school football teams, help them with their studies and celebrate milestones like birthdays. Since I travel a lot, I was keen on making the time we spent together count. Harriet and the children stay in Austria at the moment and Jemima always calls me when she wants to study. When I visit them in Austria, I make time for each of them individually since we have less time to spend together.
Harriet: I always told myself that I would be available for my kids because I wanted to build strong relationships with them. While I have had help in the form of nannies, I have always endeavoured to be their primary caregiver. I take care of them when they’re ill, cook for them and so on. I am also strict and always draw a line as far as discipline is concerned. I have also tried to teach them to love themselves and respect themselves and others.
As a family that has had to move around quite a bit, what is your definition of roots?
Karl: It’s Ugandan and Austrian genetically speaking. However, everywhere we have lived, we have tried to learn and respect that country’s culture. We also strongly consider Kenya to be part of our roots because as a family, this is where we have lived the longest.
Harriet: It’s being accepting and respectful of other people’s culture. My culture and Karl’s are worlds apart but we made it because of love and acceptance and knowing that a person is more than where they come from. It’s about their character.
Have you had situations where as an interracial couple or family you have had to deal with racism?
Karl: Racism comes out of weakness. People just want to attack others and use race as an excuse. As a couple we’ve never had an incident but the kids have.
Harriet: Four years ago, Alexander and Joshua were playing in the playground when some kids called them derogatory words. I stood up to go help but the kids told me to stay out of it. Instead, they challenged the bullies to a competition and my kids won. I was filled with so much admiration, I cried. I had been nurturing them to stand up for themselves and now they were doing it with such dignity. I was overwhelmed.
How do you maintain trust more so in a long distance relationship?
Karl: Trust is something you either have or you don’t.
Harriet: I know my husband. When he says he’s having dinner or he’s passing by somewhere, I know he’s doing just that. I know he loves me and I have no reason to doubt him.
What do you think has made your marriage last this long?
Karl: We are consciously positive. You have to make an effort towards what you want to achieve. We also love to go out, eat and spend time with each other. We also have either the funniest or most serious talks. There are tough days as well.
Harriet: Marriage for me is not just a piece of paper, it’s the relationship I have with my husband. I think we are amazing. Karl is my best friend. That, however, doesn’t mean we are always together or tell each other everything. We both have our individual lives to live.
Just how big a role does faith play in your relationship and family’s life?
Harriet: Faith is a big part of my life. I believe in God. He’s pulled me through a lot of tough times. I was always the more spiritual one between the two of us. I’d pray for Karl but never once told him how he should live his spiritual life. He did eventually become born again.
Karl: Faith is important. In my younger days I was religious and then after becoming a teenager, I went cold. When I met Harriet, I started believing again. It has given us strength, guidance and protection.
Harriet: As a family we pray and worship together. Our children are now a bit independent so we remind them but we don’t push them.
How do you deal with disagreements?
Karl: Usually if we have disagreements, it’s about something to do with the kids such as their education and so on. (Cheekily) Generally something where I am always wrong and Harriet is right. We just talk it out, justify our reasons for whichever choice we stand by and so on.
Harriet: Communicating, apologizing and acknowledging that you have hurt or have been hurt by the other party and then correcting one another. Marriage is not a bed of roses and after beating myself up, I turn to God and ask him to humble me and to give me patience. I can only do it by God’s grace.
What has been the highlight of your union?
Karl: It has to be the children. I’m glad we have them and raise them. I also enjoy when we have quality time together, just the two of us.
Harriet: The fact that we understand each other so well and being the biggest influencers and determinants of our marriage and not external forces.