For the Muokas, the vows go unbroken...
Posted Wednesday, February 13 2013 at 02:00
- The story of a couple that made a commitment to each other more than six decades ago and a confirmation that marriage can last.
- Francis Muoka, 83, and Grace Mathemba, 81, cannot remember a problem that was big enough to rock their marriage
In all the sixty-five years that they have been married, Francis, 83, and Grace, 81, have been almost inseparable. In fact, they have trouble remembering anything that could have possibly shaken their marriage. Nothing really. Old age may have caught up with them, but time has been kind to their union. Not many couples last that long.
To keep the fire of love burning, they not only forgive each other whenever one of them feels wronged but they also travel widely together. They have been to Israel, America, Germany, Switzerland, France, UK, and Rome, trips that have not only rekindled their love, but also exposed them to the wider world.
They were only teenagers when they got married in 1947. Francis Muoka was 19, while Grace Mathemba was 16. It was the norm then. “We lived about seven kilometres apart and used to attend the same church in Machakos, some 40 kilometres away. We were not even acquaintances. But we were baptised on the same day in 1942 but I did not know her name, and neither did she know mine,” Francis says with a smile.
But when Francis’ mother kept dropping hints that he was ripe for marriage, she was the first girl who crossed his mind. “She was a nice girl and I liked the way she sang. When we sang in the church choir, I could hear her voice piercing my heart. She was also not a chatterbox and she exuded confidence, qualities that I admired,” he recalls.
As there was no dating in those days, Francis sent his brother’s wife to Grace to prepare the path for their relationship and declare his intentions to propose marriage. By then, he had joined the police (1945) and was serving as an askari.
While Grace was willing to marry him, her family was wary. “It was before independence and policemen were associated with colonial brutality. But he did not come across as a brutal askari. Instead, I saw a gentle man and liked the fact that he was not jumpy like the other young men his age,” Grace nods as she steals glances at Francis.
Francis was based at Kericho, and with no other way to communicate — there were no mobile phones then — he would pour his heart out in long letters, imploring Grace to accept his proposal.
“He once wrote a 45-page letter to convince me of the great things he would do for me and the wonderful life we would have together if I agreed to marry him,” she giggles.
It took him a week, tapping on the typewriter at night to express his undying love. He then arranged postage stamps in a pattern around the envelope for better effect. When Grace got the letter, she stuck the pages on the wall with gum side by side, and the resulting strip was so long, she was tempted to wrap it around her head.
“I did not read it in one sitting. I would pause for a day to let the affection expressed in it sink in, and when I was done I would reply,” she recalls.
This was one of Grace’s treasured mementos that she kept to show her children when they became of age and got married, so that it could be an example of how they were to love their spouses “the way my husband loved me”.
If Grace ever played hard to get, the reality was that Francis had already won her over. Their only problem was whether her father would allow her to marry a policeman.
“Francis told me that if I did not marry him, he would hang himself. I told him that it was not just him who would hang, but that we would die together. It was the silliness of youthful love, but thankfully, love won the day and we got married,” Grace narrates.
They had a traditional Kamba ceremony and soon after the wedding, they left for Kericho, where Francis was working and where they lived for two months, before she went back to Machakos. At Kericho, they shared a house with two other police officers who had wives and children.
Moreover, Grace loved to farm and that was only possible back home in Machakos where, encouraged by Francis, she kept herself busy on the farm and with the Young Women’s Christian Association and other women’s group meetings.
“But we never stayed apart for long. Due to work, he was always posted away from home, but I would shuttle between Machakos and whichever work station he was based because married couples should find ways to be together as much as possible,” Grace says.
That, and the fact that they believe couples should support and encourage each other to pursue their interests is another reason they have been able to stick together for years. “You have to know what your spouse likes and ensure that you do it for him. My husband likes nicely fried githeri, and I make a point of preparing it with love. He also likes construction work so I have always encouraged him whenever he wanted to take on a new project,” she adds.
Grace also believes that a good relationship with the in-laws contributes to a good and lasting marriage. She would know for she shared a compound with her in-laws — her husband’s father, mother, brother’s, and their wives — for years before she and her husband bought land a few kilometres away and moved.