My life with star Wanjiru

Samuel Kamau Wanjiru with his wife Teresia Njeri during the happy times. Following his death, his mother denounced Njeri as his wife. PHOTO/ FILE

What you need to know:

  • Triza Wanjiru has been a lonely woman since the sudden death of her Olympic gold medalist husband. Attacked by her mother-in-law and women claiming to be her co-wives, she has maintained a dignified silence. In her first media interview since the sad events that shocked the sporting world, Triza offers candid insights into her life with the marathoner.
  • Samuel Kamau Wanjiru’s widow Triza Njeri says she met him when he was broke and together they built their home. She blames money and alcohol for the deterioration of their relationship and his death

Triza Njeri Wanjiru is lonely in a crowd. Dozens of mourners enter her upmarket Muthaiga estate home in Nyahururu every hour seeking to comfort her or catch a glimpse of the house of the young man that thrilled the world with his outstanding talent before shocking the nation with his sudden death.

Seated forlornly in the modestly furnished living room is Njeri, her eyes red and puffy, as if she has been crying. The widow wears a blank look as though she cannot register what is happening around her.

She is much smaller than she seems on television, more like a schoolgirl than a mother of two.

Since the moment her husband Samuel Kamau Wanjiru plunged to his death early on Monday morning, Njeri has had to suffer the double torment of coping with her partner’s death while dealing with a stream of stories about his life.

There was the emergence of several women claiming to be his wives. Her mother-in-law then accused her of killing her husband. And she saw two men emerge to claim to be her fathers-in-law.

She has maintained a dignified silence throughout. But in an interview with the Sunday Nation, the young widow spoke at length about her loss and had memories of the times they spent with the Olympics marathon world record holder.

Throughout the interview last Thursday afternoon, she worried aloud to relatives, including Wanjiru’s brother Simon Njoroge, how she would break the news of her husband’s death to her two children.

Simon Kamau, or Simo as she affectionately calls him, is almost two years old. He clutched his mother’s legs when the Sunday Nation team arrived and, just like his three-year-old sister Ann Wanjiru (Shiro), he has no idea that his father is dead.

In the course of the interview Ann, a friendly girl who did not seem perturbed by all the people thronging the home, pointed at a photograph of Wanjiru holding a trophy, and proudly announced, “Huyu ni baba wangu (This is my father).”

Njeri said her children had only arrived at their Nyahururu home from Nairobi the previous day and that she is still trying to find the words to explain to Shiro that her father isn’t ever coming back.

“At some point she will ask where her father is, and will need to have an answer. It’s so difficult…” she said, trailing off, trying to fight back tears.

Was a student

So how did it all begin? Her relationship with Wanjiru started in August 2005 while she was a student at Ngobit Secondary School in Laikipia.

“We were not attracted to each other immediately but with time our friendship grew into something more meaningful, and I even started to visit him at his home,” Njeri narrates.

At the time, Wanjiru lived with his mother and younger brother, Simon Njoroge, in a one-bedroom rental house in Nyahururu’s Core Site Estate.

Njeri says she hit it off with his mother Hannah Wanjiru immediately. She would regularly spend the night with the family whenever she visited.

“Kamau would sleep with Njoroge in the bedroom, while his mother and I spent the night in the living room,” she says.

When Wanjiru travelled to Japan in August 2005 in preparation for the Rotterdam half marathon the following month, Njeri says his mother invited her to live with her.

“She told me that since Kamau would marry me anyway, I might as well start living with her.”

Njeri says initially she was hesitant to move in with the family since she and Wanjiru hadn’t discussed the issue. But his mother was persistent and when Wanjiru called, she told him about his mother’s proposal.

“He told me to go ahead and move in with her, since he had discussed the issue with his mother.”

Once she got Wanjiru’s blessings, Njeri, the last born in a family of eight children, moved in with Wanjiru’s mother. At the time she was working as a hairdresser in Nyahururu town having trained at Mountain Top College in Nyeri after high school.

She says she and Wanjiru’s mother, who treated her “like a daughter”, lived together in harmony until Wanjiru came back to the country in January 2006.

Hero’s welcome

He arrived in the country to a hero’s welcome after breaking the half marathon world record in Rotterdam, Netherlands, in September 2005. He was only 18 and had earned a substantial prize money in addition to the $100,000 (Sh8.6 million by today’s rates) he had secured for breaking the world record.

“Our problems began when Kamau started to get money,” Njeri says in Kikuyu, absentmindedly running a slim hand over her last born’s head.

According to Njeri, that is when her mother-in-law’s attitude towards her also began to change.

“One day, out of nowhere, she accused me of using witchcraft to try to hold on to Kamau. I was shocked because, to begin with, she’s the one who had hinted that Kamau intended to marry me, and the same person who had invited me to live with her,” Njeri says.

The widow says Wanjiru had not tried to terminate the relationship so she could not understand what the allegations were based on. She adds that they were in love and not even his mother’s accusations could drive them apart.

“I fell in love with Kamau when he had nothing,” Njeri points out. “What attracted me to him was that he was very mature – he was also considerate, responsible and humble and, long before he got money, I had no doubt that I wanted to get married to him.”

His winnings

Soon after returning from Rotterdam, Njeri says her husband used part of his winnings to buy the piece of land on which their rental house stood. On that plot were four houses, and he and Njeri moved into one of them.

She says the witchcraft allegations made her relationship with Wanjiru’s mother difficult but they maintained respectful relations especially because they lived in separate houses.

“Once in a while we would disagree just like any normal parent and child – but it wasn’t anything serious,” she says.

While her relationship with her mother-in-law was not an ideal one, hers with Wanjiru then was “happy”.

“We did not quarrel or have any problems. We were happy together,” she says.

In November that year, she gave birth to their first child, Ann Wanjiru, who is named after the champion’s mother.

Though her relationship with her mother-in-law improved somewhat after the birth of her daughter, it did not go back to its original form but they got along.

Njeri says Wanjiru then bought his mother a house in Nyahururu’s Muthaiga estate, which is several metres away from the home they would later build for themselves.

While her mother-in-law moved to the new home, Njeri and Wanjiru continued to live in the one-bedroom house on the piece of land they had bought as they made plans to build their own home.

The construction of their house began sometime in 2007. Wanjiru was away in Japan at the time preparing for the Fukuoka marathon which took place that December.

Njeri says she oversaw the construction of the house from start to finish. By the time Wanjiru returned from Japan, a few months before the 2008 Beijing Olympics where he beat stiff competition to clinch gold, he found a complete, furnished house.

“I would regularly send him pictures from the construction site so that he could feel that he was part of the project,” she says.

Their relationship had been going so well they had even planned to have a church wedding in August 2007. Njeri says Wanjiru had approached the priest at Nyahururu Catholic Church and informed him of their intention to wed. But the wedding was not to be.

“One day, he just came home and informed me that the wedding was off. Of course, I wanted to know why he had changed his mind, but he refused to offer me an explanation.”

Perturbed but at a loss on what to do, Njeri decided to let the matter rest because, she says, apart from this turnaround, their relationship was stable.

Soon after the Beijing Olympics, Wanjiru, who had been a staunch Catholic, joined the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA).

Njeri says that their once happy relationship began to falter sometime in 2009, the same year that she gave birth to their son, Simon Kamau. By then, Wanjiru had been on a winning streak and had won gold in four marathons.

It is also around this time that he shifted his training base from Nyahururu to Ngong and occasionally Eldoret. This meant that the couple was spending less time together, and they started to drift apart.

But there was more to their drifting apart than the distance between them.

“When I met Kamau, he did not drink alcohol, but after the money started coming in, he started to drink, and started to spend time with the wrong company,” Njeri says.

According to her, her husband’s main undoing was his drinking and what she describes as an indecisive nature. She says he was easily swayed and tended to take the advice of people who “didn’t mean well”. His drinking, she adds, was the genesis of many verbal fights between them.

However, Njeri says not once during their marriage did Wanjiru hit her.

“Kamau never beat me, not even once,” she says shaking her head as if that would be unthinkable.

In fact, the only time she felt afraid of him was when he threatened her with a gun in a much publicised incident at the beginning of this year.

She reported the incident to the police, and filed a case in court, though she later withdrew it.

“His behaviour shocked me, because the Kamau I knew wasn’t violent,” she says of the incident.

Njeri is reluctant to discuss the events that triggered the incident, saying she would rather not talk about it. “It doesn’t matter now, does it?”

She says that they later talked about what had happened and Wanjiru apologised. According to Njeri, he even involved his family, specifically his uncles, who were instrumental in convincing her to give Wanjiru a second chance.

This apology eventually led to the public Valentine’s Day party that Wanjiru hosted for his wife at the Carnivore Restaurant in Nairobi this year.

“I knew nothing of the party – all along, I thought that Kamau was taking me out for dinner, until I saw all the other people,” she offers, and for the first time since the interview begun she smiles, albeit faintly.

At that moment she resembles a smitten young woman, who is still revelling in the “surprise” the love of her life presented her with. But the smile is brief and a second later, the gloomy and haunted look is back.

She says that Kamau had planned to take dowry to her parents in August this year.

Asked why he hadn’t taken it earlier, she claims that her mother-in-law had asked them to wait until she paid dowry to her own parents.

It is at this point that she receives a phone call, one of the many that she keeps receiving throughout the interview.

This time round however, she springs up from the bed she’s seated on, (we’re doing the interview in one of the bedrooms) with an alarmed look on her face. It turns out that her mother-in-law has obtained orders from the high court blocking Njeri from burying her husband on Tuesday.

“Riu nu ukwira nyina wa Kamau uguwo areka ni uru? Maundu maya magathira ri?”

“Who will tell Wanjiru’s mother that what she’s doing is wrong? When will this come to an end?” she tells no one in particular, when she hangs up the phone, pacing back and forth.

“Why are we fighting over him and he’s dead? He was respected while he was alive – why can’t we respect him in death too?” she wonders aloud, in Gikuyu.

We are forced to suspend the interview to allow her to compose herself, and talk to some women who burst in to console her, after hearing the news.

When the interview resumes, Njeri says she does not understand why her mother-in-law is so hostile towards her.

“She has everything – a house, a car, money – we even gave her a plot.” She is referring to the first property that Wanjiru bought, the piece of land where all of them once lived together in harmony. Wanjiru’s mother collects the rent from the four houses.

“If we did not look after her, and cater for her every need, then maybe she would have a right to behave the way she’s behaving,” she comments, and at that point, the frustration she has fought to keep in check surfaces.

We ask whether she knew about the two other women, who have come forward to claim Wanjiru as their husband.

“Kamau never told me about them. As far as I am concerned, I am his only wife,” she responds.

She however admits that she had heard “rumours” of other women, rumours that she chose to ignore.

Njeri says that she is aware of all the investments her husband made, since they made them together.

She refuses to talk about what transpired the night her husband died, saying she has talked enough about it.

“Just go with what has been reported,” she says, clearly exhausted.

What next? We ask.

“I am these children’s mother and father now – I have to look after them and ensure that they are well provided for and that their future is secure,” she says, drawing up her small frame, a determined look on her face.


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