Love against all odds-Couples whose marriages have survived disease, disability and unemployment

Meet three couples whose marriages have
Meet three couples whose marriages have survived disease, disability and his unemployment. From left: Pastor Mercy Gichuru, 48, and Pastor Francis Gichuru Gahieki, 50, Dorothy Onyinge, 31, and Gerald Ouma, 36, and Grace Odongo, 52, and Peter Odongo, 54. PHOTOS| COURTESY

Marriage vows say ‘for better or for worse’ but we never really expect the worst, do we? So what happens when life throws an otherwise happy marriage a huge curve ball that might cause a couple to split? Thomas Rajula speaks to three couples who have been there and survived.

We’ve made it through illness

Pastor Mercy Gichuru, 48, and Pastor Francis Gichuru Gahieki, 50 are childhood friends who started dating in 1983, but went separate ways in 1985. They reunited in 1989, when Mercy had a son, who’ll be turning 31 this year, by another man. Their union has survived family opposition and Francis’ battle with prolactinoma, which has affected their intimacy.

When Mercy and Francis met the second time round after their break up, it was almost inevitable that they would get back together. “She had qualities I couldn’t find in others: (she was) understanding, diplomatic, hardworking, and comforting. It led me to love her more,” says Francis.

“We were good friends before the break up, and he would always encourage me,” Mercy says. “He would comfort me whenever I was down. The people I saw after him wanted … to misuse me. I used to feel a vacuum inside. When we reunited, I felt joy again.”

Thus followed a period of growth. They started a supplies business together, and Francis helped Mercy improve her sales skills from what he learned as an insurance marketer. They got married in 2000, despite Francis’ family and church’s opposition – his family didn’t attend.

By 2007 Francis was gaining weight and his breasts enlarging. His energy levels were low, and he was having back pains, constant migraines and poor eyesight. The couple was having little sex, despite pressure from both families to have a child together. Then one afternoon, Francis came home with wet circle stains on his shirt. Alarmed, Mercy told him to take off his shirt and squeezed his breast. Milk came out. She called a doctor friend who suggested she take him to Kenyatta National Hospital immediately, lest it be cancerous.

Two years of brain CT scans, X-rays of the liver and kidneys and blood tests yielded nothing. There were trips to the endocrinologist and prodding by medical students. Their business suffered, as Mercy had to accompany him to the appointments.

Finally, in 2009, Dr Kirtinda Archarya of MP Shah Hospital diagnosed the problem. The couple had seen her on television describing a condition similar to Francis’ and found her contact details. She knew what was wrong immediately she saw him. An MRI scan in 2010 confirmed he had an adenoma (non-cancerous tumour) of the pituitary gland. This made him produce prolactin hormones in the levels of a breastfeeding woman. It made him infertile, too.

Opening up about Francis’ condition brought Mercy ‘advice’ from those closest to her.

“They said I should leave him. Even pastors who were our friends suggested that no one can live in a marriage without (sex). Francis told me to get satisfaction elsewhere because he couldn’t help it if I was feeling punished. I could see it hurt him. I asked myself how I would feel if I was in his situation and he went to other women. I told him to help me pray so that I could persevere instead. It wasn’t easy. I’d cry and think about leaving at times. A married person is psychologically and physically prepared for sex, because you know you have someone there with you. Then I’d remember why I loved him and I’d come back home to him. We confided a lot in each other. He let me share in his feelings. It took three years before my mind was positive about this. You can do many other things and still find fulfilment despite the lack of sex,” says Mercy.

 

***

We’ve made it through a family crisis

Dorothy Onyinge, 31, is married to Gerald Ouma, 36. They have been living with Dorothy’s sister, Phidelis, who suffers from schizophrenia, for two years. Dorothy is a medical representative and Gerald operates a supplies and operations business.

In 2004, while in Form Three, Dorothy’s sister Phidelis withdrew from school, friends and family. She would experience hallucinations accompanied by screaming, yelling, crying, or laughing. Dorothy travelled upcountry to take her to hospital, but the doctors didn’t catch anything. Phidelis asked to be transferred to another school, but her symptoms carried over there. Dorothy and her sisters had Phidelis tested for pregnancy. That came out negative. In 2005 the family brought her to Nairobi and tests at Menelik Hospital confirmed she was suffering from schizophrenia. She was given medication.

Dorothy moved in with Phidelis after she finished school because all her sister were married, and she was most available to take care of her. All of Dorothy’s siblings contribute to her medication. “I lived with her when she was in college, before I got married. I Googled a lot about the condition and how to care for her. I visited her doctor even without her, asking questions,” says Dorothy.

Dorothy and Gerald were married eight years ago, and she briefed him about her sister’s condition right from the beginning. He agreed to support her and also researched on the condition, himself, fully aware that Phidelis would be a part of his life, too. “If it was my sister I’d also expect Dorothy to accommodate her,” says Gerald. While they spent the first six years of their marriage alternating Phidelis’ care with Dorothy’s sisters, Dorothy and Gerald offered to have her live with them two years ago.

Dorothy has learned to read Phidelis’ mood. While schizophrenia symptoms can be frightening to the unfamiliar, Dorothy takes it in stride. “If you give love and support to a schizophrenic, it sometimes gives them the courage to try to do the things people don’t expect of them. They become wild and demand that love if it is not there,” she says. And Gerald vows to always be there for Dorothy, no matter what. “Dorothy is very loving, supportive and open-minded. Because of how understanding she is, I have to give back to her,” he says.

 

***

We have survived retrenchment

Grace Odongo, 52, has been supporting her family financially since her husband Peter Odongo, 54, got retrenched in 2011.

Peter was going back to work from leave when he received a letter informing him that he had been relieved of his job as an accountant and administration manager at a Mombasa entertainment club. “They were cutting costs,” he says. “I started asking why they chose me. I was shocked and confused about how I was going to break this to my family. The plans we had were now scattered.”

Peter had been here before. Two years after he married Grace in 1986, he was let go by a financial institution. He sent Grace to live with his parents in the rural areas while he was job-hunting in Nairobi.

“It was hard,” Grace remembers her life at her in-laws. “I had to learn how to farm by hand, where my father would have hired a tractor. The rural folk didn’t understand me (either),” says Grace.

Peter brought Grace back two years later when he got a job in Mombasa. And then the retrenchment happened. “This time we were more mature,” says Peter. That night, he sat the family – Grace, three sons and three foster daughters, Grace’s nieces from her late sister – down and told them the news.

Since then, Grace’s cake business has been keeping the family. Taking the place of provider is not easy. “When a man loses his job, he becomes fragile. Saying and doing things requires much thought. Every mistake or speaking your mind too strongly is seen as a reaction to him being jobless. (It’s a delicate balance, trying to not make him) so mad and not baby him either. You make him understand if there’s anything wrong – if he’s spending too much time wallowing, or asking him to help you when you’re tired. You have to phrase it in a way that won’t make him start feeling like a victim again,” says Grace.

Peter still appreciates his place as the breadwinner. “You have to do something, even if you feel it won’t bring in so much (money),” he says. “Initially, you were the one providing everything. Now she’s the one taking care of everything. You have to chip in somewhere. When you can’t bring anything to the table you feel guilty. You can’t also be asking for cash from her, she’s already overstretched. When you don’t have a Plan B, stress kicks in,” says Peter, who has been operating a tuk tuk since 2014.

Peter and Grace also have friends who are much older than them who advised them immediately Peter lost his job. “We may be going through a tough time now, but you have to remember the way things were before Peter lost his job,” Grace says. “He was very responsible when he was employed. We ate well, we dressed well. The only thing we had to do was let our dependents back home know that we would not be able to support them like we used to.”

While many women would not hesitate to leave a jobless man, Grace has stayed. Why? “These situations are never permanent,” she says. “You don’t know what God has in store. When we met I saw a handsome, polite and humble man. I told him I was looking for someone who’d be serious because I wasn’t feeling like moving from man to man. My fear was that he was just putting up a face and he would change after we started leaving together. He has been the same man I asked him to be,” says Grace.

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4 Comments
  1. LWK says

    Well this is refreshing to read. But women aren’t the only gold-diggers in marriages. Many men don’t want a woman who doesn’t work for them and pay all the bills for them so they can keep whatever money their earn or get. If the woman loses her job because of no fault of her own during the last recessing after many years of being chained to a desk working while the husband travels back and forth to Kenya and stays 6 months here and 6 months there (because that is the amount of time allowed to be out of the country if you have a Green Card in the United States), then she can’t pay the bills and goes back to college so she can make a transition to be with her husband in Kenya… well then she isn’t bringing in the dough and bacon after she pays off the cars and she is still struggling to pay insurance and everything else. I would say that she has done everything and everything to be a good wife and that man just does what he wants to and cares less that he has a wife who is taking life responsibly and trying to help them have a life together at least. But when you marry someone hopefully there was love and a vow to seal your effort to keep that going and to try to love the person you married. No one forced you to marry and no one forced you to express that you would love and cherish; and didn’t you mean that when you promised it? So no more excuses to men who skip out on their responsibilities. Yes, the law in Kenya protects men and punishes their wive(s). But that is no excuse either. You will have to face up to that and your wife isn’t trying to make you face up to responsibility and be a loving husband. Your wife just grieves your inability to do so. Maybe you should grieve for the destruction of your family and as a result of your posterity. At your funeral no one will be grieving, the women will just be scrambling to get what little might be left for them and their children that no one knew existed. But not the wife who really meant what she said in her vow. She will grieve for your soul. But it won’t do any good at that point.

  2. LWK says

    Dear fellow readers,

    Sorry, I should have commended the longsuffering love and patience and kindness as well as the grace and forgiveness exhibited in the marriage examples presented in this feature. It is good to see that some are following through with their commitments and obviously didn’t marry for money or dishonestly. I am happy for them and they have great cause to celebrate their marriages and their love for each other. Many blessings are theirs and will be theirs and to their children because of their faithfulness and love. There are many good examples that we need to follow and many bad examples that we need to avoid. But first of all the law (Marriage Act of 2014) that is unjust to women and children in families needs to be fixed since it is unConstitutional in certain aspects. And this has been proven in Kenya’s own case law. Please know that your families will only be as strong as your commitments and if they law allows the commitments to be ignored, then people (especially men since the law is skewed totally in their favor and does not protect women or children) will continue to do what is wrong because they can and the law will allow it. Please be aware that this law needs to be constitutionally challenged and there are some brave souls perhaps who are willing to do that since only men voted for this law in 2014 and all the women MPs walked out of Parliament. What does that tell you? That tells you that those who represent half of the population faithfully would have voted against this law but did not have the numbers to do so successfully. The men ridiculed them (male MPs) and since they also used God’s word in error to support this law (even though the Christian Churches were against this law) this law should be rescinded. This law is a scourge upon the land and will bring its own curse to the families of Kenya because it will bring disgrace and broken families and marriages and abandonment. Doesn’t the word ‘abandonment’ even exist in Kenya? Yes, it does but it is ignored because of the lust of men who abandon their wives and use the law to do so. There is a word for that–self-righteous bigotry and bigomy–use of the law to punish those who are innocent–their own wives and children–and for their own selfish purposes–so they can start more families and marriages they cannot support. You cannot love more than one at a time. That is the law of love if love were to have a law. You cannot stay committed and fulfill a vow to love and cherish if you go around marrying others secretly. This is an impossibility. If you made a commitment and promise to love and cherish in the first place, you knew what you were doing and you should not then use an excuse such as: “You can’t force someone to love someone.” You evidently did or you wouldn’t have married her in the first place. You can’t say now you didn’t mean it or that she is forcing you to love her just because you lust after someone else. Get it straight, men. You are dooming your own families and seed.

  3. LWK says

    So, it is good to always be positive, but to hide the soiled garments instead of washing them is not a positive thing. The soiled garments needs to be cleansed and so does the unjust law that allows Kenyan men to basically defeat marriage and family stability. Now, think about this…what if the women started marrying other men (in secret) and not telling their husbands. I mean what kind of nonsense would this be? It is the same when men marry other women secretly.

    Just to show you the ridiculous thinking of Kenya’s men so they an keep their thumb on their wives life, not less than five years after my husband and I were married, I sweetly suggested that we go out to celebrate our upcoming wedding anniversary since I think we had hit 5 years. Well, the response I got was shocking. He said that only prostitutes want to be taken out by men, not wives. So, now that I am sitting in a restaurant where men with women and children are sharing food together, do you mean to tell me that all the women having dinner with the men are prostitutes and that all the children with them are the children of prostitutes? So, to answer my husband I would have to say: Well that poor prophet Amos who was married to a wife who turned out to be a prostitute and kept running away from him was evidently taken to dinner by Amos and her clients, so she was living the life! Not to encourage women to do this, but if men continue behaving badly their women may start following their example. Of course, we know what happens to women who do that, so I wouldn’t suggest it. The men are praised by the men for having women on the side in Kenya, but the women who would do the same would be condemned and prohibited from taking communion and probably locked in the closet at home or something (until the man needed a meal, then he would let her out to cook for him, eat in front of her and then lock her back in the closet). Well, I hope she at least added her spit to the stew to add a bit of flavor. At any rate, that is totally hypothetical, but the statement about men being praised by other men (even Christians) is totally true. It is expected. Until this changes and the unjust Marriage Act of 2014 is fixed to fairly represent and protect women and children (women are half of the population and so together with their children would be a majority over men–but sadly children have no representation and evidently the male MPs who voted for the 2014 Marriage Act that was signed by the President weren’t thinking of the children in their marriages and the marriages of other Kenyans–they were thinking of their selfish needs and totally punishing women, including good wives and their own children), then the Kenyan family will continue to be harmed and Kenyan men will probably continue to do badly and tell their wife that taking her to dinner is only what men do with their prostitutes. So this means that the prostitutes are more important and are better taken care of? I mean really?!

  4. LWK says

    If there is anyone willing to defend Marriage and Families then please contact the EALJC in Nairobi and let them know. They have lawyers who might be able to help you if your husband has secretly married and taken part of your family income to pay a dowry and abandoned you and your children without a prayer. They do not do family law, but they might be able to challenge the unjust Marriage Act of 2014, which allows men to marry an unlimited number of women and to do that secretly so that a wife doesn’t even know if he is married to others or not until he is no more and then of course the wives will find each other and what chaos there would be. Is chaos a good legacy to leave behind? Is it a good way to live and is it a good testimony to the next generation? In the errant statement made by the MP who held up the Biblical example of Solomon having more than 500 wives, I have to laugh at him since didn’t he (the MP) know that God commanded the King of Israel not to multiply wives or horses. I mean Solomon did both with impunity. But of course he was not a good example since the entire nation was split in half after his death. Sons fought against sons and then started a long line of wars and captivities. So, if that MP wants that to happen to Kenya, just as long as he can have his women on a platter and destroy his own family, then isn’t there someone willing to defend the sanctity of marriage and save families in Kenya?

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