It was love at first sight when 99-year-old Johana Maritim Butuk met Alice Jemeli, 40, and after dating for 20 years, the lovebirds tied the knot in a colorful wedding ceremony in Soy, Uasin Gishu County on Saturday 14, January.
When they first met in 2003, Jemeli was only 20 years old and Butuk was 69. Despite their age differences, their love blossomed as they dated.
Butuk, the nonagenarian, proposed to his girlfriend of two decades in December 2022 and plans of a wedding ceremony started.
It was his first marriage since he has never dated a woman for the 99 years he has lived.
You would expect that the lovebirds would be away enjoying their honeymoon in the nearby Eldoret town, Kitale or even the coastal city of Mombasa, but The Standard found them celebrating the nuptial at their mud-walled house in Tuiyobei Soy B village.
They were still walking around the unfenced homestead, with a few relatives present and I could feel the celebration mood in the air.
The couple exchanged their marriage vows at the nearby St Mark’s Soy B Catholic Church, and locals who attended the ceremony described it as very colourful. Residents say they had never seen a 99-year-old man marrying a woman the age of his granddaughter.
When the Standard team arrived at their home, they found the love birds discussing plans to build a grandiose house for themselves, their financial inadequacy notwithstanding.
The love story
Theirs is a story of love brewed over two decades.
“I did not marry my entire life because I have always wanted peace of mind. I was also busy with menial jobs, and when I decided to marry all my friends were already grandfathers. But when I met my wife, I discovered that I found what I wanted in life. Alice talks less and helps navigate challenges in life,” Butuk says.
He adds: “She was young when we first met, and I loved her because of her humility. I was first introduced to her by a woman called Tabasei, and we connected well despite the age differences. I am happy because my wife is now mature and responsible.”
“I loved him when we first met in 2003. I had quit an abusive relationship, but when I met Mzee (Butuk) through a woman, I loved him because he was humble and listened to me. He was old, and I decided to be his helper because I knew that I would become a married woman like other women,” Jemeli says.
She says Butuk was homeless and unkempt when they first met, and she prides in changing his life. Butuk lived with one of his brothers, only identified as arap Kenei, who died in 2010. After his brther died, Jemeli says, her husband’s troubles increased and she had to move in. They later built the mud-walled house they currently live in.
Butuk, a man of few words, was a herder in his younger days. He often fled quarrels and confrontations commonly associated with relationships and courtship. Residents say he loved eating guava leaves, and never interacted with girls.
“I have been late in many things, but today I am happy because I am a married man. I was initiated in 1943, way after my age mates had been circumcised. I am confident that the happiness in my marriage will make me live longer,” says Butuk.
Jemeli, his wife, says she earns Sh3,000 a month as a house girl in a neighbouring home. Their colourful wedding was made possible by contributions from neighbours and well-wishers who heard of their plan to walk down the aisle. “Our wedding was colourful, and we are celebrating it at our humble home. We have no money because even our wedding ceremony was financed by neighbours and our friends in the Church. We can’t even go to the nearby Soy Club for a meal," she says.
The couple says they plan to build a bigger and more comfortable house despite their financial challenges.
“Many people did not approve of our marriage because they thought I was after Mzee's wealth. But it is not true because my husband has no wealth. Compared to young men that I dated before falling in love with my husband, I chose mzee because he gives me the freedom to work and take care of my children in peace,” Jemeli explains.
Jemeli has three children from a previous relationship and is happy Butuk has accepted them. One of her children sat KCSE in 2022.
“What makes me even happy is that mzee is now happier,” she adds.
Butuk’s nephew Sally Chepkoech says all of her uncle’s siblings are dead. He was the eldest. Another nephew, Roseline Mutai says Butuk is healthy because of eating raw traditional vegetables and wild fruits. “He eats just one meal a day, and he hates food cooked with refined oils. He was never married or dated his entire life. We thank his new wife for helping him. We want him to live many more years,” she says.