Love is a battlefield, Pat Benatar sang in her 1983 single. There might not be swords, guns or teargas but there sure is a lot of struggle, tears but also laughter and joy. It’s not easy but it is worthwhile. This, according to a couple that’s been at it for the last 35 years and counting. Jan Napio invited herself into their home and passively coerced them into telling her the story of their love.
For Fred and Joan Musisi, the love connection came easily. They had many mutual relations so it wasn’t so surprising that they ended up together.
“Our families were somehow connected. Our mothers used to work together and our fathers were also workmates at Posta Uganda and then my sister was her OG from Gayaza High so the connection was easy,” says Fred, a sports journalist and former KCCA player.
Meeting these two together was a lot like finally completing a puzzle. On his own, all you see of Fred is an early birder at the workplace with well-ironed clothes and a tasty snack container in his backpack. He means business when it comes to work and you can’t miss the subtle bullish stance towards his subordinates. He seems like an overly particular man, in charge of his life and the sports desk until you meet his wife and realise who really runs his world.
Joanita Musisi is a bubbly, light-skinned average-sized woman with a knack for interesting conversation and banter. We were meeting for the first time and yet after about two hours of conversation, it seemed like we had met before. She tells it as it is without holding back. Every time Fred would try to edit a certain scene from their life, she’d interject with, “Wama let me tell you what really happened.” And this is exactly how we got to know that 35-years ago, he was given an ultimatum by her father to make their relationship official.
“We started dating while I was in Nairobi where I was pursuing a fashion and design course at Eveline’s College. He was a KCCA player at the time and so every time the club came to Nairobi, we would be excited. After the games, Ugandans in Kenya would go and hang out with the players and so would we. This was about 1983-84,” Joan intimates.
Joan remembers a time the team had arrived in Nairobi and she quickly called him. Instead of Fred, Bidandi Sali (yes, the politician) who was the KCCA coach at the time is the one who picked the phone and said, “Can you please leave him alone for sometime, he has a match. Afterwards I will let him see you.”
Even when there were no games, Fred would frequent Nairobi just so he could spend time with his lover. By the end of 1983, everyone knew they were a pair. Their families back in Kampala heard of it too and were watching them keenly.
“Imagine I had a sister who lived in Nairobi at the time but I’d not spend my time in Nairobi at hers. Joan and I were inseparable. We just wanted to be together. We’d even return to Uganda together,” Fred says.
The moment Joan completed her course and returned home at the end of 1984, Paulo Muwanga (former prime minister) who had taken her under his wing after her father’s death called Fred’s uncle and asked to meet his parents.
“You are seeing my daughter and I see it’s hot. Now that she has finished school, what is your plan? I am giving you six months to make it official”, these were the words that catapulted the romance into a marriage.
Were they ready? Of course not. At the time, she was only 22 years, fresh from school and he well, was not more than 25 years. They were just in love having the time of their lives, not looking to get married at that point but the parents were not taking any chances so the preps for the wedding and introduction began.
We were not ready but we were in for the challenge so we went for it. As was the norm, after that meeting, he wrote a letter to me asking me to marry him, I still have the letter somewhere. The letter would have some money in it. I think mine had about Shs500. Then he wrote another letter to the muko saying he wanted to come visit, then another to my father and my senga.
Joan gave the letters to her mother who then delivered them to the respective people and the dates were set.
In their time, there was no such thing as wedding/ introduction meetings. In fact, the introduction in Kawempe Tula was a very intimate affair consisting of only family members and it was held indoors.
“No tents. Everyone had to fit in the house. We had 25 people and back then that was a very big number. Those days they didn’t bring anything, they just brought simple things. The gomesi I was to wear for the ceremony was brought in a basket by the man’s side. It came with a necklace, earrings, bracelet, etc. All they asked was what colour I wanted. I chose red,” Joan recalls.
According to Joan, that’s how it was done those days. The groom and his entourage sent the bride’s outfit about a week or so to the ceremony. Just one gomesi. There was no such thing as changing four times, or the whole village dressed in matching gomesis walking down in a line twerking to B2K’s ridiculous, “ I want to eat your banana”. Zilch. It was simple, nice and respectful.
They’d bring a Kanzu for the father and gomesis for the mother and senga, the mutwalo which would mostly be coffee beans and maybe chicken for the muko. “We didn’t even hire people to cook. Everything was done by the people at home, including the cooking.” Joan says
The introduction would last a maximum of two hours. They had to leave before 6pm After all, who wants visitors who stay too long. Did I mention there was even no infamous, hectic kukyala that now seems like a mini introduction event?
“These days people carry photos of the Kabaka, the Nabagereka, make long recitals of which clans they are from, etc. All that stuff is new.” Fred adds.
The wedding date was saved for August 24, 1985, and like the kwanjula, there was no fundraising, only planning meetings. The lucky couple got so many offers from friends that eased the financial demand.
“When we told my aunt we were getting married, she gave us $200 for suits, my sister in the UK did the catering and champagne. We were allowed to use the reception Lugogo indoor stadium for free because I was a sportsman, the entertainers, Afrigo Band gave us a 50per cent discount, and someone had bought shoes for my bestman although they were looted from the shop before we could pick them during the Milton Obote overthrow.
Joan didn’t let her fashion and design Diploma go to waste. With a Shs2m donation from Fred’s uncle, she bought material and made her wedding dress, changing dress, after party dress, matrons and bridesmaids dresses. Amazing .right?
The cherry on the cake though was the apartment flat in Entebbe that Joan’s guardian Paulo Muwanga gave to the couple.
Church was at 10am at Namirembe Cathedral, reception at 2pm and by 4pm, everyone was back home, given the unstable political times and curfew.
After sometime, the couple had to relinquish the flat and find a house to rent. After a couple of run-ins with greedy landlords and staying at a house where a landlady would increase rent fees every time they acquired something new like a fridge or tv, They settled into one of Joan’s mother’s small rentals in Lukuli .
“It was a shop at the front and we lived at the back of the shop. We lived there for 10 years. I had a bridal business in the shop, birthed and raised all our four children there. Bryan, Bridget, Beverly and Brenda.” Joan recalls.
By this time, the couple had built a couple of rentals and from tenant payments, they were constructing a house of their own. Joan being the proactive one was and still is always the initiator of such projects and as such, decided to move into their house before it was complete because she couldn’t stand the small rental anymore.
“I was going to Tunisia in 2004. She told me by the time you come back, I will have shifted. She asked for Shs300,000. I tried to convince her to wait but she was determined and that’s how we moved into our then very incomplete house,” Fred shares.
Getting to know each other
It’s been 35years, their house is now complete. Joan being the famed cook that she is served me tasty liver and chapatti and spiced tea and then reclined in a chair to continue our conversation while Fred sat upright on a green chair fidgeting with the TV remote to try and change channels.
“ When you are together, you start to learn each other. For instance, Fred goes with what I decide. I tell him something and sometimes he acts as if he hasn’t heard but I speak up and then implement and he eventually comes on board. I start and then he joins in later. It took me a while to learn this about him. Those days it would make me angry but now I know,” she says.