When grandma wed grandpa after 40 years of cohabiting

Ms Namutebi serving her husband Mzee Babiito with a soft drink. PHOTOS BY OPIO SAM CALEB

Like fine wine, love indeed just gets better and more precious with age. And for the bride of the day, 61-year-old Maria Namutebi, marching down the aisle in the arms of her Prince Charming, 86-year-old Joseph Babiito who swept her off her feet 30 years ago, it was the summit of their lives. The two lovebirds celebrated their nuptials on September 18 at their Namalemba home in Kamuli District in a poignant event organised by their children.

The modest event set at their front yard on the bright sunny Saturday afternoon kicked off with the elderly couple exchanging their vows and rings, before a reverend in a solemn church ceremony witnessed by invitees, including former Kamuli Town Clerk Mr Karoli Dhizaala, a close friend to the couple. The gathering burst into laughter following the chorused “I do” answer from the couple when the Parish Priest asked the couple the mandatory vow of whether they will love each other till death does them apart. It was pretty obvious the two were meant for each other. Namutebi dolled up in a yellow floral gomesi sitting and beaming beside her adorable groom in the traditional white tunic. She was undoubtedly spellbound. It was one expression that was hard to miss on her demeanour all through the day.

Though their grandchildren ran around the grounds in jubilation, they did not have any official flower girls or page boys but this did not stop the two soul mates sealing their bond. Soon after the formalities, the newlyweds’ entourage and their well wishers proceeded to a reception set at the same venue. There was a blue two-tier cake waiting to be served. And the ceremony might have been kept simple and easy. But the soiree that marked the day was wonderfully electric. As soon as the reception feast came to an end and everyone gravitated to the front of the homestead foyer for some dancing; the two sweethearts, hand in hand, danced the evening away to old love ballads like those of the late Elly Wamala.

It was a scene of an ageless love as Mzee Babiito with his walking stick by his side, took it all in his stride as he edged on to follow his wife’s sequenced gentle dance steps. It was a sight to behold.
It was clear that love is in truth lovelier with the 40th year around. On the eve leading to their big day, the couple had called invitees to a stag party.

This gift given to the pair by their children in a rare show of gratitude was not just another ritual that foretold not just good continuations for the wedded couple but the existence of an extraordinary bond for a blended family of children from several unions. The bride’s step son, Charles Kitimbo said, the children came together and thought of a way of rejuvenating the elderly couple’s lives following the death of their biological mother who passed on several years back. “We did this as a way of thanking our stepmother for her unparalleled character having raised eight step children in a very blended family. She fostered and strengthened new relationships between us,” said Ms Josephine Nabirye, one of the step-daughters of the bride, who spoke on behalf of the children at the ceremony. “I think she is a role model for step-mothers all over the world.”

She described the bride as a woman who took all the eight of them up despite having only one child of her own. The path was complicated with Mr Babiito doing the odd job of vending newspapers to raise their school fees and maintaining the home. Daily Monitor later caught up with the duo in their house before they left for their honeymoon in Bugerere. Mzee Babiito, a veteran newspaper vendor said he was happy that tying the knot would allow him resume participating in the celebration of the Eucharist.“I feel nothing but joy. My children have given me a lifetime present and shown appreciation to their step-mother. I can now again go to the church altar for Holy Communion and the best I can give them is to ask God to reward and bless them for this gift to me.”

Ms Namutebi could also not hide her gratitude for their children’s efforts in pulling all the stops for a truly impressive fete. “As a woman I only want to rejoice in its glory and share the happiness around.”Having gone through the British education system to become a teacher, Mr Babiito lived most of his life in Buganda with his uncles, and had initially married from there. He studied at Uganda Martyrs School and graduated as a vernacular teacher and because he performed exceptionally well, the White Principal, Fr Van Baker retained him to teach at the school. It was then that he met his first wife Theresa Namutebi Babirye of the Mamba (Lung fish) clan through a mediator after six years of searching. “Having been very smart and humble, one day after church, the mediator approached me saying she had a beautiful lady teacher who could compliment my life and of course, I had also been eyeing her but feared to be let down,” he narrates.

After some days of visiting and courtship, he took her up and as the teachers code of conduct dictated then (no one was supposed to stay with a lady without wedding her) he wedded her a year later in July 1947.A few years later, he left her behind, after giving in to his father’s incessant nagging to go back to his ancestral home in Bugiri. She declined to follow him citing her family wealth. He had to move with his six children. He however maintained the relationship between them.

It was then that in succession he fell prey to two Basoga beauties, with whom he sired three other children. As fate would have it he was not to settle down with either of them. Then in 1970, Namutebi came along. She welcomed the other children and developed mutual relations with the first wife.“She was an angel. They would visit each other and whenever I would go to Buganda, she would pack food, mainly the smoked dried meat, groundnut paste and chicken to bring to her co-wife and vice-versa, which is not common amongst co-wives,” he revealed. On her part, Namutebi confesses, the step children have kept her so well because though she has only one child, they all regard her as their mother.

Because of this bond, the locals hardly tell they are not her real children, she reveals. She says balancing her love for all the children complements her life.“Children are innocent,” she says, “It is how you relate with them that can drive them away or draw them closer to you.” She adds that one’s real child may not have that attachment and concern so one should always treat children as innocent as they are.
She also reveals that mzee has kind words for everybody and though he is a tough disciplinarian, he uses other disciplinary measures, not rebuke, as a tool for punishment. While he says the secret has been tolerance for one another and not arguing in public, he also says, it takes studying the temperaments and qualities of your partner to live harmoniously.

“All you need to do is understand your partner and you will live very long happy lives.”In 1976, Mzee Babiito retired from teaching and took on selling newspapers but unlike these days when they are delivered in the towns, he had to board a taxi from Kamuli to Jinja or Kampala for the copies and be back by noon to start selling. The venture paid him well because he was able to meet big personalities and became a source of information and promoted his reading culture. Mzee Babiito boasts of a well educated family with three of his children in United Kingdom and the others in employment. Life for this couple spells dependability. Mzee Babiito wakes up at 7a.m. sweeps his compound then goes to dig for an hour. He comes back to bathe and is welcomed by morning breakfast already on the table.

Even at their age he says they have learnt to share duties and assist each other whenever possible. He also advises on feeding habits saying his secret to long life is on good feeding, exercise and affording a laugh all the time. He also advises against having hot baths all the time. Evidently this wedding was not just another case of nuptials being made. It was the culmination of many years of love.