The “Mali Safi” Problem
I bet this term is new to a lot of you, especially the non-Kenyan audience. But it is no rocket science to Kenyans, East Africans, or Swahili proficient individuals of any origin in the world. ‘Mali Safi’ can be loosely translated as ‘Something good, or of high value’. Suppose you have a great watch, a good car, a powerful suit, or anything with a touch of class and refined taste, you will hear your friends or random honest people whisper, “Huyu jamaa ako na mali safi” (Swahili for, “This individual has a real stuff”).
Another meaning, so familiar mainly with the male folks, is referring to a beautiful woman or lady. Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, but there are times in which beauty lies in the eyes of everyone that have no visual problems. There is some degree of beauty that needs patience and close interaction to discover. You may be wondering what he saw in her, while you can’t see anything to admire. He has been keen and diligent. He has done his assignment well and discovered the gold that lies beneath the surface. Such beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.
However, there is some degree of beauty that is bold and flamboyant. It calls for no debate; everyone agrees that ‘there goes the real stuff’. A host of pulchritude and accuracy of all proportions. Every honest man looks at her and leaves an unsolicited review, “what a dime piece!” She is an SI unit for beauty. When you check your beauty checklist, she rates 10/10. She is another definition of a ‘mali safi’. Are you a ‘mali safi’? You better be, especially in your own opinion, cause you are the only version of yourself that we have in the world. You are special; discover how.
Henceforth, we will build on this based on the final definition—a dime piece. No, I have changed my mind, that is a dangerous move! There is yet another category of Mali safi that we need to reflect on. This category will accommodate many of us and may prove the heart of the matter in this discourse, though I still don’t know how. But we’re travelling together, and we will see what comes out.
Do you remember those people you think about when some sort of ranking is mentioned, or some gap needs to be filled? When the Ballon d’Or debates arise, it seems we start voting from Leo Messi and Chris. Think of that guy highly talented in music; you don’t think twice to have him on the keyboard during special occasions. What about the other one who seems to have a charm with which to keep the crowd together? I am talking about highly talented individuals. They are so gifted that we think of them almost subconsciously when a problem arises that needs to be solved by their area of gifting.
So what problem do I have with them?
I don’t have any problem with them. Having a problem with them would be a hasty generalisation and hoisting myself by my own petard. Instead, there is a problem that most people who are too good at something are ignorant about—character. Most refined talents are sacrificed on the altars of moral lapse and presumption. Most highly-talented or gifted people end up doing well in life, but way below their potential had they been disciplined enough to plot their graph well, considering all the axes.
This translates to chaos often seen in society. A woman too beautiful to be single, but unmarriable, because apart from breaking your neck (you have to turn to look at her every time she passes), she can’t do anything. She cannot hold a meaningful conversation. She cannot help to reason out things and come up with solutions. The only thing she is bringing home every evening is “I am so cute”. When you are running late with your dissertation, when you don’t have rent for the month because you are pinned down by a mortgage, when you are unsure what to invest in, the only solution she has is “I’m so cute”. When hunger and dearth strike, people look for food, not beauty. After being beautiful, go out to make yourself useful. I love beautiful things, and I will pay to get into beautiful scenery; I am going for the dime piece. But no man will endure the presence of a beautiful-ugly woman for too long!
I sometimes feel like we have a lot of stories darkened by individual recklessness and frivolity. At least everyone has something they are talented in. The difference is the lack of character to scale it to the real potential. Most average performances are not to be the case if students were committed to their level best. I always tell people close to me that their best is good enough. I should also tell you the same. The big question that remains is simple: “Are you doing your best?” Our best can make the world a good place. But there are a lot of people who end up dying with untapped energies and misused privileges. Just change and try doing your best in whatever you are gifted in, and then come back next year to share your success story. I can create a space for your testimony on kowilicleaver.com. Go now and rewrite your story.
Finally, I am going to address people who debase their stars on the altar of vice. A great musician, but who cannot remain faithful to their marital vows. Whatever line of gifting you are significant in, if you allow any practice that is not consistent with the principles of right doing to become your second nature, just know you have robbed the world of the blessings which would have come had you allowed yourself to perform at your best. Your best is that version of you that passes the sobriety test. Your best is that version of you whose wife will always say, “I trust him, wherever he is” and vice versa. Your best is that version of you that is faithful to duty as the needle is to the pole!
Please, give us the privilege of seeing how beautiful the world can be if we have the best version of yourselves. Thank you in advance.