Ten Life Lessons (TLL) from Trevor Noah's Book: Born a Crime



One John W. Gardner once said "Life is art done without an eraser". Today I list down some 10 life lessons from Trevor Noah's autobiography Born a Crime. I'll do so along with a few steps I took getting to the finished dotted ( pointillism/stippling) art piece I did of him.

The book is a memoir of  his childhood as a biracial in South Africa during apartheid. He was born of a South African Xhosa mother and a Swiss-German father. Interracial relationships were illegal at the time and thus the title Born a Crime. His mother had risked 5 years in prison when she had him.

The book caught my attention and embraced it gently that there was no letting go. I was always looking forward to continuing from where I left of.

The descriptions given in the book are so vivid and African that they resonated so well with me as a Kenyan. Through his words I could feel his joy and his pain and at some point he managed to make me an emotional wreck. A wreck in a good way though, because the point was driven straight home.

Trevor is known for his comedy and it goes without saying that the list will start with something related to laughter and a positive attitude.



 Lesson 1: Look for humor even in the worst of situations

Trevor's step father shot his mother in the head and she miraculously survived.

A few days afterwards in the hospital, his mother was the first one to crack a joke. Trevor was crying by her bedside and she said to him. Don't cry. Look at the bright side: Now you're officially the best-looking person in the family.He bawled his eyes out and laughed hysterically at the same time.

According to Trevor they overcame a lot because of laughter That is why he says he thinks he loves comedy so much. It is what kept his family going through every single type of adversity.



Lesson 2: Nurture your spirituality

At the very beginning of the book we are introduced to Trevor's mother and her strong faith. On Sunday's Trevor mother would take him from the black people's church to the mixed race church and then to the white people's church to attend different services. To her, each of the three Churches offered something unique.  

As I drew close to the end of the book, the vivid expression of the emotions that were felt after Trevor's mother got shot in the head drew tears to my eyes.

I still remember that day I was reading it in a matatu and I had to stop reading it for a while to prevent myself from crying in a bus full of people.I had to take a few deep breathes too in order to calm down. Emotional movies do that to me all the time, but that was the first time a book had evoked such strong emotions in me. 

When someone gets shot in the head and suffers no brain damage and is alive and does not need to go through any surgery because the bullet completely passes through the head, missing all the major organs. It is hard to deny the miracle in that.


Lesson 3: Language unites sometimes even beyond race

In many instances Trevor realized language unites. In the book he says "Maybe I didn't look like you, but if I spoke like you, I was you.

He can be described as a polyglot a person who has mastered multiple languages. He speaks several languages including English, Afrikaans, German, Zulu, Xhosa and Sotho.

Due to his light skin color Trevor got a hard time in school. In order to gain acceptance from the black kids like a chameleon  he would blend well with people when they spoke different languages. When someone spoke Xhosa to him he would reply in Xhosa the same applied to the other South African languages like Tswana and Sotho.

There's one instance Trevor heard a group of guys speaking in their native language planning to mug him. He turned and started speaking their language saying "Yo, guys, why don't we just mug someone together? I'm ready. Let's do it" They looked shocked for a while then they started laughing. The fact that he spoke their language made them change their attitude towards him, they even apologized and told him they thought he was something else.





Lesson 4: Use your gifts and be keen on spotting opportunities

Trevor ran very fast. His naughty nature had helped him improve on his speed. He wrote" Nobody ran like me and my mom. She wasn't one of those come over here and get your hiding type of moms. She'd delivered it to you free of charge." Even if it meant running after him.

This was a gift that he leveraged at school. Immediately after assembly, there would be a race to the tuck shop because the queue to buy the food was so long. Every minute spent on the queue was working against people's break time too.

Trevor was always first in line, so people started going to him to buy things for them in return for some money. He grabbed that opportunity and started telling everyone at assembly to place their orders. He was an overnight success and in his words " Fat guys were my number-one customers. They loved food, but couldn't run."

Fun fact:
 Trevor was a naughty child but luckily unlike his cousins he never got punished by his grandmother. "A black child you hit them and they remain black" she used to tell his mother. "Trevor when you hit him he turns blue and green and yellow and red. I've not seen these colors before I am scared I am going to break him. I don't want to kill a white person."



Here I was working on his mischievous grin


Lesson 5: Fear regret rather than failure

In his own words; " I don't regret anything I've ever done in life, any choice that I've made. But I'm consumed with regret for the things I didn't do, the choices I didn't make, the things I didn't say. We spend too much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection, but regret is the thing we should fear most."

"Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have an answer to. ;"What if?" "If only" "I wonder what would have..." You will never, never know, and it will haunt you for the rest of your days"


Lesson 6: Be comfortable being unique

Imagine yourself living in a land where you are isolated because you are not black enough even though you were born and raised in an African family. You are not white enough because only one of your parents is.

Trevor was able to see and feel what both races went through during apartheid. He could not walk next to his mother in public and at some point his mother had to hire a mixed race lady friend Queen to walk with her and Trevor. So that she looked like Trevor's mother and his real mother would look like his nanny. Trevor could also not call his father Dad. He grew up calling him by his name Robert.

Trevor used his unique qualities to his advantage. He used his language skills to reach all races, he may not have felt like he fit in anywhere during his teenage years but speaking a certain groups language helped him earn trust.  Even to date Trevor says he enjoyed his childhood because it was all he knew. He never felt like he lacked much.



Lesson 7: Even in hardship home is where the heart is


Trevor got tired of seeing his mother abused by his step father. He felt helpless because he did not know how to assist her. They had reported him to the police a couple of times but he had some police friends. So nothing really ever happened to him.

His mother is the key personality in his book and he wrote the following " Finally, for bringing me into this world and making me the man I am today, I owe the greatest debt, a debt I can never repay, to my mother."

Lesson 8: Be better because of your past

Patricia Trevor's mother being a key personality in his book and in his life in general had the following to say" Learn from your past and be better because of your past, but don't cry about your past. Life is full of pain. Let the pain sharpen you, but don't hold on to it. Don't be bitter."

Patricia had gone through a lot but she practiced what she preached. She was never bitter. The deprivations of her youth, the betrayals of her parents, she never complained about any of it.



Lesson 9: Have respect for other people no matter how they treat you in return 

Patricia had suffered a great deal from her husband Abel, Trevor's step father. Trevor was hurt when he saw his mother suffer in Abel's hands. He did not at any point disrespect this vile man though.

It was only when Abel shot his mother that Trevor lost control and called him. At that point he thought his mother was dead. She had been shot in the head so it was hard to imagine she would survive that. Trevor threatened to kill Abel at that moment of rage.

He says " To this day I don't know what I was thinking. I don't know what I expected to happen. I was
just enraged." Clearly Patricia raised Trevor exceptionally well.


Lesson 10: Make the most of your situation

Trevor was hidden from the real world. His innocence as a child hid the truth behind his special treatment. To his young mind he did not think his special treatment was because he was light skinned. When it came to his grandmother to him it was "Trevor doesn't get beaten because Trevor is Trevor.

For a while Trevor did not have friends because he was neither black nor white.He learnt to accept his situation and resorted to living in his head. He would also read a lot while he was a lone. That would eventually make him the awesome author he is today that penned this amazing book. If you are going through a tough time, remember it is there as an opportunity to learn something new. That lesson is bound to stick and will probably help you a whole lot in the future. So hang in their and try to make the most of the situation.



AA (Auspicious Art)
Wendi Mutisya


12 comments:

Kathini Mutisya said...

I love every bit of this article..captivating and an eye opener piece

Wendi Mutisya said...

Thank you Kathee. I'm really glad you do.

Alicia James said...

Very important lessons to share. The one I'm battling with the most now is the one aboit regrets. I try to live with as little regrets as possible. This made me realize I'm not being completely honest with myaelf because if that's what I'm doing, fear of failure shouldn't be a factor.
Great job on the artwork, keep it up

Wendi Mutisya said...

Very true fear of failure should not be a factor for someone who wants to live without regrets. I am also trying to work on that. Thank you, I really appreciate.

Elizabeth Wambui said...

love your blog. It is so unique and the content is awesome

Elizabeth Wambui said...

Good stuff Wendi. Your Blog is uniquely awesome!!!

Wendi Mutisya said...

Thanks a lot Liz :). I'm still looking forward to the day you'll send me a picture for a portrait like we talked about last time.

Njeri Wainaina said...

Simply awesome

Wendi Mutisya said...

Thank you Njeri ☺

Edna K. Muli said...

Beautiful piece. An eye-catching and eye-opener as one..Good job Wendy.

Edna K. Muli said...

Beautiful piece. An eye-catching and eye-opener as one..Good job Wendy.

Wendi Mutisya said...

Thanks a lot Edna, I'm really glad you found it eye opening.

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