Who is Babiki in Noah’s memoir Born a Crime? What can the story of Trevor Noah, Babiki, and the big dance teach us about the sometimes negative consequences of a country with 11 official languages? And how bad can a first date get?
Babiki was Trevor Noah’s first date, whom he took the big matric dance, which is the equivalent of a high school prom in America.
First dates are typically awkward, and love can be a language all its own, and a hard one to learn. Let’s look at how learning the language of romance is complicated by South Africa’s rich diversity of official languages. This is the story of Trevor Noah’s disastrous first date.
Trevor Noah & Babiki: Love at First Sight
In high school, Noah’s friend Tom set him up with a girl from another school named Babiki (Tom wanted to date Babiki’s sister and he thought Noah dating Babiki would help his chances). Babiki had light skin and beautiful eyes and was the most beautiful girl Noah had ever seen. There was no one like Babiki at his school.
Noah didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t used to talking to beautiful women. The saving grace was that Babiki was also shy and said little except “hi” and “bye.” Noah couldn’t believe his luck. He’d never thought he would ever go on a date. Now he was taking this stunner to the big matric dance for everyone to see, and she was just as nervous as he was.
During the weeks leading up to the dance, Tom and Noah continued to visit Babiki in the city. He learned her family was Pedi, a smaller South African tribe. The Pedi were known to be poor, but they had a tendency toward scraping up whatever money they could to buy expensive clothes. Babiki was no different; she was a fashionista.
Noah and Babiki never went out alone. They didn’t talk much owing to her bashfulness and his nerves. But they enjoyed themselves with the group, and she would always hug him and sometimes kiss him goodbye.
The dance was approaching, and Noah kicked into high gear to get everything ready. He wanted the night to be as perfect as Babiki was beautiful. For that to happen, he needed a car, dress clothes, and a haircut.
Noah Prepares for the Dance
Abel, Noah’s stepfather, offered to let Noah take one of the used cars from his garage, which was now located in their backyard. Noah was grateful, but what he really wanted was to take Abel’s BMW. He told Abel he needed a nice car because Babiki was no ordinary girl.
Abel made him a deal. If Babiki really was as beautiful as Noah said, he could take the BMW. Tom and Noah brought Babiki to Noah’s house and introduced her to Abel. Abel and Babiki chatted for a while, and then they took her back home. When Noah got back, Abel said the BMW was Noah’s to take.
With the car lined up, Noah turned his attention to his outfit. He knew he needed to look good, but he had no idea what good fashion was. He’d become accustomed to wearing a brand of sweat clothes called Powerhouse. He owned five of the same pants and sweatshirt ensembles in different colors. But Powerhouse would not cut it on prom night.
Bongani, one of Noah’s employees (Noah was an entrepreneur in high school), took it upon himself to give Noah a makeover. Noah, in love with American movies, wanted a long leather coat like Neo in The Matrix. But Bongani steered him toward a similar black leather coat that was more realistic. Paired with a nice sweater, pants, and suede shoes, Noah’s outfit was complete.
The last thing to handle was Noah’s immense unkempt Afro. Bongani took him to a black salon in the township where he lived. Noah decided to cornrow his hair, but he had to relax it first. The chemicals used to straighten black hair are harsh and toxic. But because Noah had never had it done or seen it done, he didn’t know how powerful they could be.
The stylist told him to let her know when the relaxer started to burn so she could wash it out. Noah wanted his hair to be perfect, so he withstood the first burning sensations. But soon, his scalp was on fire. He’d waited too long, and the chemicals had burned parts of his scalp.
Still, when the process was over, he liked the way his hair looked straight and combed back. He felt like a pimp. Six-hours later, his hair was cornrowed. Noah was floored by what he saw. He never thought he had a chance with girls, so he never thought to put any effort into his appearance. For the first time, he liked what he saw in the mirror.
Trevor Noah & Babiki: The Big Night
When the night of the dance came, Noah was ready. Everything was perfect. But when he went to get Abel’s BMW, things took a turn for the worst, and they kept turning.
Noah and Tom found Abel drunk. He didn’t remember the dance, and he said if they wanted the car, they had to buy him beer first. After they came back with the beer, Abel still wouldn’t let Noah take the BMW. Noah pleaded for 30 minutes before giving up and taking a used red Mazda.
After wasting all that time with Abel, Noah was an hour late to pick up Babiki. She looked even more beautiful in her dress, but she was furious. She didn’t say a word to Noah. Unfortunately, her mood worsened after Noah got lost on the way to the dance, which was being held at a location off campus. Noah drove around the unfamiliar neighborhood for an hour before finding the venue.
When they finally arrived, Babiki refused to get out of the car. Noah tried to apologize and coax her out, but she only responded with “No.” Desperate, Noah ran inside to find Bongani. When Bongani came outside to help, he was taken aback by how beautiful she was. Rather than helping Noah, he ran back inside to tell the others.
Within minutes, the car was surrounded by a group of boys all vying for a look at Babiki. No one could believe she had come with Noah. All Noah could think about was how he’d spent all of high school trying to avoid embarrassing himself, and here he was, humiliated the first time he had a date.
Trevor Noah, Babiki, and the Misunderstanding
Bongani was trying to help talk Babiki out of the car. Suddenly, he stopped and walked over to Noah. He wanted to know if Noah knew Babiki didn’t speak English. Noah didn’t believe Bongani. He walked to the car and said something to Babiki in English. The blank stare he got in return was all the evidence he needed.
There are 11 official languages of South Africa. Language barriers are common. But Noah spoke many languages and had spent his life navigating around these barriers. How did he miss this?
Noah’s mind raced back through their time together since they’d met. It suddenly dawned on him that he and Babiki had never talked when they hung out. He hadn’t realized it because he was shy and she was shy. She always spoke Pedi, which was one of the few languages he didn’t speak.
One of the reasons he never noticed their lack of communication was that Babiki’s sisters spoke English. He was always able to pick up the gist of what was being said through their translations. And that was just how his mind worked. He knew many languages, but his mind always translated what he heard into English. Therefore, when he thought back on conversations, he remembered them in English.
He also remembered seeing her speak to Abel, but Abel spoke Pedi. He hadn’t been paying enough attention and just assumed they were speaking English. At the end of the day, the only English Noah could remember her saying were greetings and salutations.
He was mortified. Here, he thought he’d had his first girlfriend ever for more than a month, and they’d never had a proper conversation.
In a panic, Noah ran inside the dance looking for someone who spoke Pedi, but he didn’t find anyone. Babiki never got out of the car. Those few minutes inside were the only part of the dance Noah got to attend.
Noah stayed in the lot until the dance was over, then drove her home in silence. When they got to her home, he tried to find some way to relay how sorry he was. But Babiki leaned over and kissed him. After she said “Bye” and left, all Noah could think was that he didn’t understand women at all.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Born a Crime summary :
- Why Trevor Noah's birth was an illegal crime
- How Trevor's single mother was the beacon of strength in his life
- How Trevor ultimately broke out and achieved success