How did you meet?
Alex: We officially met in 1974. I was then undertaking a Bachelor’s degree in education at Kenyatta University College – then a constituent college of the University of Nairobi. One of my favourite things to do over the weekends whilst at home was to go to the newspaper stand to read the weekend papers. Pamela would always pass by to buy a copy as well. After months of curiosity and observing how she interacted with people, an attraction started building so I decided to find out more about her
Pamela: I was in form two then and was always the one sent to buy a copy of the newspaper. One day, he asked me where I lived and as we later found out, we were even more connected than we knew.
Pamela: My brother was a lecturer at Kenyatta University at the time and I used to stay with him during the week and then go to my sister’s house over the weekend, where Alex and I eventually bumped into each other at the newspaper stand.
Alex: When I thought hard about it, I vaguely recognised her; I just couldn’t remember that it was from campus. One day after our first meeting, I was surprised to see her arrive at our house with an older fellow. As it turned out, my elder brother with whom I lived with at the time, also knew her sister’s husband, the gentleman she’d come with.
How did you realise that you were meant for each other?
Alex: I knew she was the one after my sister passed away and she showed up unannounced at our home in Ugunja, Siaya County. She’d learnt about my sister’s passing from her brother and asked him for permission to come mourn with us. When I introduced her to my family, they immediately advised that I consider her when choosing a wife.
Pamela: I once introduced Alex as my boyfriend although he wasn’t but I spent so much time with him than I did with my boyfriend of the time. In fact, I only knew of Alex’s intentions when one day, out of the blue, he said he was coming home to see my parents.
And that was enough?
Alex: The art of seduction has no formula. Mine was not conventional.
Pamela: Yes. He seemed more serious than my boyfriend.
Why did you choose to marry at the Attorney General’s chambers as opposed to a church wedding?
Alex: We didn’t have money for an elaborate wedding so we had a small civil ceremony; just the two of us and our two witnesses.
Pamela: But we will be renewing our vows in church this month because we finally have the time and resources.
What kind of challenges have you faced in your marriage?
Alex: My career changes definitely affected us. I started out as a teacher but ended up working at the Kenya National Examinations Council under the Ministry of Education. This meant that I had to travel quite a bit especially during exams time.
Pamela: He’d always leave the house early and come back very late and then travel out of town or country even. At one point I got so frustrated I demanded to know what exactly he was doing because it was pulling him away from us. I felt abandoned, left alone to raise five children by myself when I believed strongly that children need both their parents for healthy growth.
How did you resolve that?
Alex: We discussed it and agreed to adjust accordingly. In hindsight, I know some things I could’ve done better. However, it’s always been my policy to invest in each other. When I was around, we always went out. I also got her a car to make her movement, especially with the kids, easier.
Pamela: I don’t think I’d do things differently if we went back in time because that situation helped me realise that I could actually look after my family by myself if need be. Love is a collection of many things, some are practical, some oral, some emotional. Invest in all the above and put yourself in your partner’s shoes and try and understand how your decisions impact them.
Has finances ever created a rift in your relationship?
Pamela: (Laughing) One of the things we had to deal with is the issue of ‘no money’ when I asked Alex for something. I had to find a way to soothe the money out of him. So I led by example. I would buy something here and there, which made it easy for him to open his pockets up.
Alex: It’s not that I was being mean. Most times, that money was already prioritised for something else so there was little leftover to spare. I would also ask for forgiveness if I felt I was wrong or if she was too disappointed.
Pamela: But as best practice, we were sticklers for keeping proper financial records and a budget. We also decided not to have a joint bank account because to us, respecting each other also meant respecting individual ownership of things.
How did you keep conflict from interfering with intimacy?
Alex: Being annoyed is understandable. Some people take it so seriously but they should understand where two people and resources are involved, it’s a give and take. Sometimes you just let go of a fight even if you’re right. Personally, I’d take long walks to relax my mind and come up with a common topic to introduce to get her to talk to me.
Pamela: Love is living according to what you say. Alex’s also a jolly man, who makes me laugh and we can talk about anything. We are all human beings so sometimes we’d give each other the silent treatment. In such cases, just give someone time to see the other person’s side. Don’t be flippant and let bygones be bygones. While we knew this when getting married, it took quite some strength to implement.
How did you approach the question of remaining faithful to each other?
Alex: It was never a big deal to us. Personally, between work and family, there was little time for else. I also come from a polygamous family and ironically, it was my father who warned me against multiple wives or lovers.
Pamela: Of course, there are times people made passes at me but I would politely decline because my family means everything to me. Couples need to be transparent and accountable to each other.
Alex: In the event that a couple finds themselves in this predicament, remember, as a man, that which you think is so special in other women, is probably in your wife – just find a way to bring it out of her. In the event you find yourself in trouble, don’t become a repeat offender.
You’ve both had serious health challenges, prostate cancer and arthritis. Tell us more.
Alex: The prostate cancer started as a sharp pain around my pelvic area in 2014. Initially when I went to hospital, doctors gave me antibiotics believing it was an infection. The situation got worse to the point I couldn’t pass urine and one day, I just collapsed. After being admitted, doctors finally diagnosed cancer.
Pamela: I developed arthritis after an accident in 2000. There were days the pain was so intense and tiring I’d just give up and ask God to take me. I had to use crutches and there were days I couldn’t move at all until Alex took me to hospital for treatment.
How have the different illnesses affected your marriage?
Pamela: I didn’t panic so much because we were given treatment options and I believe prostate cancer can be cured. One also has to accept the diagnosis and remain positive.
Alex: The cancer diagnosis was a bombshell and it’s taken a physical and financial strain on me. As it turns out, my health was worse than I knew because I also had sugar and blood pressure issues. I underwent two surgeries but the cancer is back again and has spread to my bones causing a lot of pain. I also developed arthritis. I’m undergoing monthly chemotherapy sessions but the treatment is still costly even with NHIF paying Ksh25,000 out of the Ksh100, 000 needed and another Ksh40,000 for medication. When I look back, I realise how strong Pamela was when she had acute arthritis. It is only now I can begin to register the kind of pain she endured.
Have you discussed about the possibility of death by cancer?
Alex: Oh yes. If death comes, then let it come. Sometimes we plan our own things but life happens differently. We also talk about it with the kids and try to cheer them up
Pamela: We’ve spoken about it right down to where we’ll both be buried. We are very aware of our situation. Death comes whether you are sick or well, it’s simply a matter of time.
You have five children and raised quite a number of relatives as your own. What are your takeaways from your parenting journey?
Pamela: When we first got married, my mother-in-law encouraged me to take my late sister-in-law’s daughter so as to keep me company in the house. She is our first-born, her name is Dorothy Maunda, a nurse practicing in the USA. Thereafter we’ve looked after a couple of nieces and nephews. I think it’s good to be friends with your children and to allow them to be free with you. Allow them to ask you questions and don’t beat them. At least I didn’t have the need to because they were the indoors type of kids and had little drama.
Alex: (Smiling) I, however, used to spank them. Maybe that’s why they’re closer to her than me. Every weekend they’re all here together with some of our 11 grandchildren. Our other kids include Donna Chieza an accountant and pastor; Diana Maunda, a teacher; Mariam Maunda, an accountant; and our last born Alphonse Maunda, also a nurse in the USA. We have also adopted one of our nieces, Julie Odigo. She and her other siblings became orphaned just as she was sitting her final exams. Julie stayed with us until she got married. We consider her a daughter and a friend.
What would you say remains the secret to the success of your marriage?
Alex: Respect and cooperation. Pamela’s not the type to complain. She says what’s on her mind and it ends there. We also compensated where we felt there was a deficit and always consulted each in our decisions. Even if we don’t agree, at least we were always aware of what we were both up to.
Pamela: Alex has stood the test of time. A lot of the things people warned me about didn’t happen. Some even thought he would become abusive. We have always managed to sort our issues. Being supportive of each other from when we started out, living humbly in a bedsitter with only two sufurias (one for ugali and the other for stew), also helped a great deal.