This article appeared this week on Daily Nation’s Featured Magazine.
He’s 44, she’s 21. They’ve been married for a year now, and say this marriage is for keeps, that they look forward to growing old together, that there’s absolutely nothing, save for death, that would separate them.
Their 23-year age difference, they’re adamant, has no impact whatsoever on their relationship.
There’re a number of people who’d beg to differ though. For instance, some experts argue that when it comes to relationships like marriage, age is much, much more than a number.
Think about it, at 44, Tom Namwamba has probably seen and experienced it all, gone through the trials and tribulations of life, meaning that little would faze him at this point of his life.
His wife Celestina Chepkorir however, is just beginning to get a taste of what life is really about. The last thing on many 21-year-olds lives is marriage, or babies for that matter.
As you read this, her agemates are probably somewhere nursing a hangover, dragging their reluctant feet to college, or already planning where to hang out over the weekend.
When we point this out to the couple, Namwamba says that he could show us several failed marriages where age gap wasn’t an issue.
“Over the years, I’ve dated many women who were much older than Chepkorir, and I can tell you for a fact that they didn’t fit the bill – I knew she was the one I’d marry just a month after meeting her. Character, not age, is what counts,” he says and adds,
“I didn’t remain a bachelor for all those years out of choice; I just hadn’t found someone I was compatible with.”
If anything, he says, marrying late has come with many advantages.
“You’re sure of what you’re looking for in a wife, you’re financially stable, focused, have your priorities right, and go into marriage with the intention of making it last for life,” he says.
Asked whether she isn’t afraid she’ll wake up one day and regret not having partied more, or enjoyed life more before committing to the serious business of marriage and children, Chepkorir says that she was never a party girl to begin with.
“I’m more reserved than outgoing, I don’t take alcohol, and my idea of fun is going out for a picnic, a meal, or visiting relatives,” she says, adding that she also enjoys looking after their daughter, and doesn’t feel tied down because of this.
But surely, one year isn’t enough to gauge a marriage’s lasting power, is it?
“We’re in this for keeps, therefore even when the honeymoon wears off, we’re still determined to make a lasting marriage,” Chepkorir, who’s in her second year at university, says.
She adds that in spite of her inexperience where relationships are concerned, she’s got a fair idea of what marriage should, and shouldn’t be.
“I grew up in a military camp in Nanyuki, and saw how my neighbours related as wives and husbands – some got along and seemed happy together, others fought and called each other names – I know I got the marriage I wanted,” she argues.
There’s also the conspicuous matter of the wide gap between their education level. Chepkorir is yet to earn her first degree, while Tom already has a PhD. Namwamba says that this has never been an issue in their marriage.
“We have a lot in common, and have never lacked something to talk about, however, I separate my intellectualism from our social discussions, so as not to let my intellectual prowess overshadow our socialisation.” he says.
The couple adds that what matters most in their marriage is the trust they have for each other. Their young marriage, they reveal, hasn’t been short of trials. Trust, they say, is what keeps them afloat.
They trust each other so much, they don’t hide their mobile phones from each other.
“We even receive each other’s calls,” they say.
So, just how did they meet?
“I met Chepkorir when she came to visit her sister at Kenyatta University, where I teach,” says Namwamba.
It turned out that one of her sister’s friends was his friend as well, and so he invited them to his house.
Namwamba says that the attraction was mutual, and after about three months of dating, he asked her to be his wife.
Is three months enough to tell whether one is wife or husband material? We ask.
“It is, if you know what you’re looking for. I knew she was the one after just two weeks of knowing her,” he replies.
“I had no doubt I wanted to get married to him, but I knew that my parents would object because I was still in school,” she says.
When she informed her father that she’d met the man she wanted to get married to, his response took her aback.
“My father asked – “What do you know about marriage?”
This would be followed by a barrage of other questions such as, “How did you meet him?” “Don’t you think he’s too old for you?” “What if he’s just passing time?” “Are you sure he is the right one for you?”
“When I informed him that Tom was the right man for me, the look on his face told me that he wasn’t amused, but I begged him to meet him first, and also to break the news to mum, who I dreaded telling,” she says.
Her mother insisted that she first finish her degree, and she threatened that unless she shelved the idea of marriage, she’d not go back to Nairobi.
“I’m a prayerful person, and since I just couldn’t get married to Tom behind my parent’s backs, I prayed that they’d at least agree to meet him,” she says.
Three weeks after dropping her bombshell, her parents asked her to invite Namwamba to their home in Bomet, Rift Valley, on a Saturday.
“I instantly struck a rapport with her father, and afterwards, everything went well,” he says.
A month later, he took Chepkorir to meet his mother in Bundalang’i, Western Kenya.
“It only took my mother mere minutes to approve of her – she even threatened to disown me if I ever frustrated her in any way,” he says, smiling at the memory.
When both families approved of the union, a couple of elders from Namwamba’s side of the family traveled to Bomet to pay dowry, and a month later, they solemnised their marriage at the Attorney General’s office. They intend to have a church wedding later this year at Port Victoria Catholic Church in Bundalang’i.
The couple was celebrating their first wedding anniversary, as well as Chepkorir’s birthday, which, interestingly, fall on the same day. Not one to do things in half measures, her husband had invited their many friends, relatives, and several of his former students.
There was lots of roast goat meat, roast chicken, rice, chapatti, and an assortment of liquor to wash it down with – he had gone out of his way to make this day one that Chepkorir and their guests won’t forget for a long time to come.
But just when everyone thought that the party couldn’t possibly get better, Namwamba stood and called the merrymakers to attention.
It was time to present his wife with her birthday gift. He asked her to stand by his side and handed her a brown envelope, which he asked her to open. In it was a Key.
And then he led her towards something that was covered with a sizeable tarpaulin, which he asked her to pull off. By then, the crowd that had gathered around could hardly contain their curiosity.
After what seemed like an eternity, what was beneath was finally revealed – a sleek-looking navy blue Mercedes Benz. From the look of utter surprise on Chepkorir’s face, and the tears of joy, it was obvious that she hadn’t expected such an extravagant gift. And then came the speech.
“Today, I celebrate and appreciate my wife for sticking with me for the last 365 days. It has not been easy for her, but she has taken it all gracefully. She is a very outstanding lady!”
He then handed her the vehicle’s logbook and encouraged her to take her maiden ride.
Later, Chepkorir would tell us,
“My husband is a very loving and a caring man. He truly knows how to treat a woman.”
Well, he’s also a man who knows how to treat his parents-in-law because he also had a surprise for them.
Chepkorir’s parents, Alfred and Priscilla Mutai, had traveled all the way from Bomet to attend their daughter’s birthday, but ended up getting the surprise of their lives – a BMW.
“I have given you this car to thank you for accepting me, for guiding us over the past one year, and for raising such a wonderful daughter who has made me a very happy man,” said Namwamba.
Some men at the event joked that Namwamba had set the bar “too high”.
One of his former students, Allan, an accountant, said: “We aspiring husbands and sons-in-law would have to work really hard to match this.”