Their first date was in August 2012. The venue: a coffee house on Nairobi’s Mama Ngina Street. He was an adviser in the Office of Prime Minister Raila Odinga. She was working for Transparency International.
She recalls she was initially a little confused, before she finally accepted to go out with him on the first date “after his incessant calls”. He says he couldn’t just let go of this girl he had met through a mutual friend.
That is the date that would change the lives of nominated Orange Democratic Movement MP Isaac Mwaura and senior programme officer at the Centre for Public Health and Development Nelius Mukami, who became husband and wife Saturday after they were engaged in February.
After their first date, Mukami recalls, Mwaura — who had earlier picked her up from the Transparency International offices in his car — escorted her to Nairobi’s Odeon Cinema bus stage on foot.
“He couldn’t give me a lift home,” she says, then looks him in the eye. He is sitting opposite her at a table in his parliamentary office a few days to their wedding.
“Why didn’t you drop me?” she asks, as Mwaura laughs.
“It was a first date, surely,” he responds.
“You should have dropped me. You should have been a gentleman,” she says, throwing him an accusatory look before she bursts into laughter.
Mwaura can’t let the jibe pass without a response.
“But you wanted to go. I’m sure you never wanted me to know where you were staying,” he jokes.
Both burst into laughter. She masks the mouth with a hand while laughing, quite the opposite of his loud laughter — like the independent thinker he believes he is.
Mukami continues: “He escorted me to the stage. At some point I wasn’t sure he would find his way back. He kind of looked confused in town.”
Mwaura vehemently denies he had any navigational challenges through Nairobi’s concrete jungle, but finally gives in.
But soon he seeks to “avenge” by recalling how a trembling Mukami fumbled with a presentation she was making one morning before a team of donors from the World Bank Institute a few days after their first meeting.
“She was very nervous and I can still remember her in a red top and a black pair of trousers, looking confused,” he says, adding that it took Teresa, a colleague of hers, to finalise the presentation.
In her defence, Mukami says Teresa was just giving moral support. It is similar support that Teresa and her Nigerian husband David Adeitan provided yesterday as part of the bride’s and groom’s team.
Such is the banter between the Mwauras during their interview with Lifestyle, in between making the final touches for the wedding and the MP’s parliamentary commitments.
With a sigh, Mukami says planning for the invitation-only wedding at Citam church along Thika Road was not easy.
“It has been hectic. Since February, we have been planning on how to visit each other’s homes (for traditional marriage ceremonies) and arranging for the wedding. It hasn’t also been easy because of the dynamics of having to include so many people,” Mukami says.
She, however, says support from family and friends has made a big difference.
Somewhere along the interview, the lovebirds tease each other over who has better academic credentials. He brags that he holds two master’s degrees: one in development studies from Nelson Mandela University in South Africa and another in social and public policy from the University of Leeds in the UK.
Not one to concede defeat, Mukami, a political science graduate, says: “Write that I am also pursuing a master’s in international relations at the University of Nairobi.”
But Mwaura’s life has not always been characterised by such mirth.
Having been born with albinism, a condition largely characterised by lack of skin pigmentation, he has been battling discrimination since he was born in Kiambu County 33 years ago.
His father disowned him and his mother after his birth when he saw how unusually light the child was — and he grew up in an environment where albinos were looked down upon. Most people with albinism are born to parents who do not have the condition.
In past interviews, he has noted that negative attitudes among Kenyans have left albinos alienated. In neighbouring countries like Tanzania and Burundi, albinos have been killed by those who believe their body parts are useful in witchcraft.
Through hard work, Mwaura has risen to be one of the most vocal legislators and an agitator for the rights of the disabled. Having been nominated to represent special interest groups, he is the chair of the Kenya Disability Parliamentary Association.
Apart from previously working as a special adviser on Special Interest Groups in the grand coalition government, he had been the National Co-ordinator for the Albinism Society of Kenya since 2007 and also worked for the National Council of Persons with Disabilities.
Mwaura graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Special Education from Kenyatta University in 2006 before pursuing the two master’s degrees in the South African and British universities.
He believes in hard work and says his dedication while working in the Prime Minister’s office was the reason behind his nomination to the National Assembly.
“At that time we had to build that office from scratch, which was a lot of work. I would leave the office even at 3 am, sleep for a few hours then come back. That is why I’m in Parliament today,” he says.
That Mwaura has albinism and Mukami doesn’t could easily be a source of reservations for her, but she says she has learnt to ignore her critics.
“He is a man; my man. The rest is up to the world to decide but that’s how I see him,” she says.
Mwaura adds: “There are people who would want to pick that (albinism) as an issue. It will not be the first marriage between someone with albinism and someone who doesn’t have the condition. We don’t let that matter bother us because there are many such people who have gotten married and had children.”
Mukami says they have not deliberately gone out of their way to prove a point: they are simply two people who are deeply in love and want a happy life like any other couple.
“If our marriage sends a positive note to those who may have had negative thoughts, so be it. But that’s not the basis of this union. Our marriage isn’t a demonstration of how a person with albinism can get married to a person without albinism. That has happened many times before and it should continue to happen,” Mukami says.
She adds that everybody has a right to live a normal life.
“It is very bad for people to judge others over issues they have no control over,” she says.
The two only have kind and generous things to say about each other.
“I couldn’t ask for more,” Mwaura says.
“I am happy, genuinely happy. She is a very intelligent girl. She is very hands-on and a stickler for time. I know she is also good at bringing people together and makes her own decisions,” Mwaura says.
He explains that respect for each other is the most important element that has kept them together.
“In our relationship we are equals and we are glad that we can relate at that level. For me, I’m her man, not an MP,” says Mwaura, adding that she is also politically savvy and gives him very good political advice.
For Mukami, being in a relationship with a politician poses unique challenges but she says she understands him and what his work entails.
“Being a student of political science — I’m told I can’t be a full political scientist yet — to some level I understand the dynamics,” she says.
However, Mukami is quick to add a disclaimer that even though she is clear about her full support for him, there is need to balance his political and family obligations.
“At the end of the day, I am still a woman who will be wondering why he isn’t calling me, why he isn’t picking up my calls and such things. However, I understand how politics is and I appreciate that he will not call or reply to my texts all the time, especially when Parliament is in session,” she says.
However, their relationship has not been without challenges. After barely four months of dating, they parted ways.
“Our love story has been very eventful. We dated, then we went our separate ways. Our dating did not last long, but it picked up some time later,” Mwaura says.
Mukami adds: “Within that period of separation, we still talked; we were just friends.”
He remembers her gestures during the brief dating period that he has never forgotten.
“I was sick and admitted to Karen Hospital (in Nairobi) for about four days. There are two things that Mukami did to me that have never left my mind. One, she took good care of me in the ward and even after I was discharged. Two, she gave me a present that I still have to date,” he says.
The present was a Maasai rungu (club) that is a sign of leadership.
“It was good because it affirmed first my political ambitions and secondly my capacity as a leader. I have that rungu to date. It is always with me in my car since 2012. Those were very symbolic gestures for me, and later on we reunited and now we are getting married,” he says.
Upon their reunion, they say they resolved to marry as soon as possible and not to “waste each other’s time”.
“It is not good to keep on dating for long. It doesn’t help and it is not productive. If you have decided to live with somebody, do so. When you are not sure and you feel there is doubt, don’t waste your time — move on. Why date for four or five years?” Mwaura poses.
Mukami recalls that when they reignited their relationship they were doing it with a clear purpose.
“We were not dating for the sake of it; we were dating to go somewhere. We had made it clear to each other that we were not just going to have fun,” she says.
The re-union led to a much publicised engagement in February, which Mwaura says was secretly planned to be executed during a friend’s party.
Photos of Mwaura going down on his knee to seek Mukami’s hand in marriage went viral online soon after he loaded them on his Facebook page.
“People were quite fascinated; I don’t know if it is because I am an MP. Possibly, people had not seen an MP going down on his knees and proposing. I could be the first Kenyan MP who ever proposed in public in such a manner,” Mwaura says. He later paid her bride price according to Kikuyu customs.
So what are the honeymoon plans after the Saturday wedding, we ask?
Mwaura is quick to answer: “It is a secret destination. She is not even aware of where we are going. That is my secret.”