Dear reader, the story you are going to read is one the writer tells with pint-sized bias. The prejudice that comes with falling in love at first sight with a people. A wonderful and happy couple. Now, a visit to Maurice Mugisha and Irene Birungi Mugisa Mugisha, whom we shall call the Mugishas, comes with warmth.
You feel it in their two pretty daughters’ infectious smiles and the elegance of the house, the unending reference to each other as “honey” and the softness with which it comes. When the couple hosted a photographer and I for a sumptuous lunch, the bliss of a young couple, and small family, was self-evident.
But that is only the coating. Listen to how this family of two fairly accomplished journalists came to be. While at Makerere University pursuing his bachelor of Business Administration degree, Mugisha admired and almost adored Birungi, then a high flying business reporter with WBS TV. “She was one of those ladies we watched on TV and wanted to meet. She was good at her game,” he says.
Little did he know that this, his campus idol, would be his wife and mother of his children. But how could he have? He was, after all, younger than her. By five years. When he joined WBS TV as a sports news anchor, his mission was meet-and-befriend-Irene, but at a purely professional level. That was in 2003.
He says, “She was one of the most beautiful ladies on TV, one of those you wanted to meet, only to discover that on air they are different people. I wanted to get to know and befriend some of these senior people to learn from them”.
They occasionally talked and one thing led to another. Before he knew it, she was introducing him to her parents in 2006 in a traditional marriage. The relationship had now matured and in the same year, they took the maiden walk down the aisle.
I didn’t even notice his good looks
It was a meeting of souls least expected that leaves Birungi speechless for some time as she reminisces, “We bumped into each other in the corridors. I was not awed by his looks and never imagined we would be a couple. He asked me out for tea. At the time, WBS used to hold monthly staff get-together parties. He asked to be my date.”
It was on one of these dates at Club Silk that Mugisha, the current NTV news manager, sowed his seed. As soft music played, he called her to the dance floor, holding her waist and looking her right in the eyes, a mellow melting out and with a deep sigh said, “My mother will like you.”
“I was puzzled. I asked him what he meant and he repeated the statement. It was then that it hit me that this guy was taking this friendship to another level,” she recollects, staring at him, their eyes twitching as though they fell in love only a night ago.
Before she met Mugisha in 2003, Birungi, now a communications director with Federation of Uganda Employers and a businesswoman, had had a relationship that had gone sour, from which she had a son now aged 17. Maurice was, however, ready to let sleeping dogs lie.
“When you see him with my son, you would think they were brothers; he treats him like his own son,” she says, ogling Maurice’s photograph, hanging on the wall in the sitting room.
But wait, wasn’t he scared to ask out this woman with a son, and who was older than him? He, after all, was only 25 and she was 29!
“I was not scared because I expected no chance. I went in with no hidden motive. She was one of those I believed I could learn something from; she was interviewing top CEOs and the President but she was normal,” he says.
And her? What would she tell friends and family?
“Maurice acted mature and was God-fearing. He asked to see my father and took a gift for my mother. My dad was so impressed, he told him, ‘Knock and the door shall be opened for you’,” she recounts, adding, “Another time, we went to Arusha and met my uncle, a diplomat. He was also impressed that at his age, he was speaking like an adult.”
Above all, Birungi says, “Age does not matter. It is just a number. What matters is that two people connect and understand each other and value their interests”.
Her husband interjects, “Besides, very few people, even today, notice she is older than me. My friends and family who got to know were very kind.” To Mugisha, love has the power playwright William Shakespeare paints in his epic play Romeo and Juliet, to make black and white fall in love and water down all youthful assumptions.
“You never know whom you can fall in love with. It was the last thing on my mind, but voila!” says Mugisha, adding: “At school, we used to say we would not marry unless we had cars and houses, but I bought my first car as we dated and built a house after we got married.”
The doubting Thomases and believing Johns
He was 27 when he married and his father, he remembers, kept asking, “Are you sure you want to get married? Why the rush?”
But this was only a couple in the morning of love. The world out there was not as supportive as family. The media, with its latent power to make or break, spread its tentacles, ready to suck the blood out of their blossoming affair.
“They were writing all sorts of things, saying Maurice is grabbing someone’s wife and WBS is encouraging it, we started to avoid some public places and events, it was the toughest time for us,” he says, shaking his head as his wife goes on...
“And honey would call me and say, ‘just ignore them!’ I would wonder if he knew just how badly the tabloid headlines affected me emotionally. Anyway, after some time, they started to write positive things about us finally getting married and the awards I was winning for my work.”
The wedding bells sounded on May 20, 2006 at All Saints Cathedral. They hosted their reception dinner at Fang Fang Hotel, and went to Mbale Resort for their honeymoon. It cost them Shs52m altogether and the couple proudly says they did not contribute a cent as friends and family showered them with love. All they can say while gazing at the photos, when asked to revisit the big day is, “It was beautiful, oh my God!”
What they says about each other
Maurice Mugisha: She is very patient. She can ask you for something and get it in five years without complaining. She is also extremely generous.
Irene Mugisha: Maurice is humble. He can come to the room, pick a dress and iron it. He is also down to earth.
Lessons from the marriage
We all come from different backgrounds and need to accommodate each other, and fear God. You need to be ready and not driven by material things. Be patient, take it one step at a time.
Maurice Mugisha Communication and the fear of God is key. The Bible should be your pillow. Be open and know her friends.
The couple, residing in Nansana, Wakiso District celebrated their eighth wedding anniversary on May 20. It has been a heck of a journey. “So, does she, being older both in age and media experience, run the affair as senior and remote controller?” I ask the couple. From the look of things, Mugisha’s territory as husband and father is defined and respected.
“A woman will always be a woman. I have never been in the driving seat and remain submissive to my husband. “Some women today think getting up there means looking down on the husband,” says Birungi.
Speaking in his macho tone, he adds, “Decisions in the house are made by all of us. We usually take time at the end of the year for a holiday and these days our three children decide”.
Ok, what about trust, the enigma in many an affair? I wonder out loud. “It is one thing to trust and another to believe in the trust,” says Mugisha. “One way of building trust is to share your salary so she feels comfortable how you are spending that money. I bring to her all my contracts and she actually opens the envelop. We have joint bank accounts.”
It is about openness and communication. But theirs was a pillar of trust built from the word go. She, for instance, shared with him names of all men, high and low, asking for her hand in marriage.
“I always told him who I was interviewing, when and where. Even when we are away, we trust each other, it is about communication,” she emphasises. Thus was the level of trust that when she was manager at UBC TV, she would get phone calls past midnight but they never bothered him because he understood the nature of her job.
Indeed, only recently, Nation Media Group, his employer, presented Mugisha with a one-year training opportunity at the head office in Nairobi, Kenya. The condition though, was to prove his wife’s consent before leaving the country.
“The moment he brought the issue up, I assessed it and appreciated how much value it would add to his career and asked him to leave, even when he hesitated for my sake,” she shares. Their relationship, they say, has been one of learning and unlearning from the small disagreements, at times on work-related issues. On children, for instance, he reveals, “I have told her technically that I am good to go with two daughters,” to which she laughs out loud and exclaims, “I have told him I still have room”.
She says, smiling shyly at him, “I can raise my voice but Maurice never does. He walks away and humbly says “I am sorry, honey. Now I know better”. How much sweeter can love get? For the impartiality, the writer pleads guilty!