Messages from Life
Two events in nineteen-year-old Ebraheem Seale’s life stand out as important life lessons, even though he couldn’t see past his frustrations at the time that they took place.
Ebraheem was born and raised in Bonteheuwel, into a home where both parents stayed together. “My mom is a baker and she runs a coffee shop from home – the first coffee shop in Bonteheuwel. My Dad works as a sales consultant for an insurance company. My parents were always together. I don’t remember them ever arguing.
“I’m the oldest of my siblings. I have two sisters aged eight and 15 and a younger brother aged 12. My childhood was pretty normal. I was indoors a lot until a certain age. I liked playing by myself because I enjoyed my own space. I was reading, playing video games or watching TV.”
Ebraheem was only 15 years old when he and a neighbourhood friend decided to steal a few chocolates from the local supermarket. To them, their decision was not out of place in the environment in which they were growing up. They did not think of it as any different to what they experienced on a daily basis.
“We used to hear our peers bragging about stealing from shops. A friend and I decided to try it. I’m not sure why - I suppose we wanted to feel the adrenaline everyone was talking about.
“We selected a specific supermarket to carry out our plan since it did not have security cameras in place, only a security guard. We first bought bread and milk. I was wearing a bomber jacket, so we decided that I would steal the chocolates and hide them in the inside pockets of the jacket.
“I was nervous before taking the chocolates. My heart was racing. I picked two chocolates and put them in my pocket slowly. We began walking towards the exit. I was convinced we had managed to get away.”
But the watchful security guard grabbed Ebraheem and his friend as they tried to leave the supermarket and frog-marched them to a back room.
“I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say. I was scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I felt so overwhelmed. The room that he took us to was small. It had no windows.”
The security guard found the chocolates inside Ebraheem’s jacket and then dismissed his friend, telling him to go home. Alone and frightened, Ebraheem was taken to the head of security at the supermarket who threatened Ebraheem with a taser. The guards taunted him, threatening to call the police.
“They didn’t call the police, but they called my father. They also told me that I would need to work all afternoon, to help in the supermarket. They asked me to clean and to do some packing. It was embarrassing to see the staff from the supermarket looking at me – in their eyes I was a thief. After a few hours, they sent me home.
At home, Ebraheem expected a beating, but instead, his father taught him a life lesson.
“My dad came to my room and he actually sat me down and spoke to me. He was not angry, or if he was, he kept calm. What he said to me - it changed my whole mindset and how I saw things. He used to say it before, but I never took his words seriously. He said, ‘don’t be a follower, always be a leader. It takes courage to be different. Don’t follow others into doing the wrong things, stand by yourself and always do good.’”
For the first time, these words that Ebraheem had heard many times before, took on power and became a message that spoke to him directly.
“After my father told me that, I never allowed myself to be pressured by others into doing anything I didn’t want to do or that felt wrong. Because of the area that I grew up in, I could have easily been persuaded into gangsterism or drugs. But my dad’s message basically changed my way of looking at life. Every time I became tempted to do something naughty, his words would come to mind.
“It is crazy to believe the impact that words can have versus a physical hiding. I think that what did the trick was that the whole situation was quite overwhelming for me. I was feeling terrible. My dad did not make me feel worse. He showed me another way. And his way felt much more dignified.”
Ebraheem learned to trust himself and accept how he truly felt.
Three years later, his ability to truly accept himself would again be challenged. This time an unforeseen physical condition struck him during the final exams of his final year at school.
“I was writing my English final paper. While I was writing I felt that something wasn’t right with my right eye. It was tearing and I couldn’t close it. I just thought that maybe my eye was tired because I was writing. After the exam, I still couldn’t close my eye. It was like my muscles were frozen. I wasn’t in pain though.”
Ebraheem suffers from allergies and at the time he thought that the way he was feeling might be as a result of his allergies acting up, so he took his usual medication. The next morning, when he looked in the mirror, he was greeted with a face very different from his own.
“I couldn’t move anything on the right side of my face. I couldn’t raise my eyebrow and couldn’t close my eye.”
Ebraheem was rushed to hospital where doctors first suggested that he might have suffered a mild stroke before they subjected Ebraheem to several tests to understand the cause of the problem.
“I spent the night in the hospital. I had these thoughts where I doubted my recovery and I would think about what I was going to do if I didn’t recover. I couldn’t sleep that night because of the thoughts running through my mind.”
Ebraheem was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy which involves paralysis on one side of the face. It is classed as a relatively rare condition.
Ebraheem had to undergo physiotherapy to help with his recovery but still had to finish his final matric exam.
“I got to school and people were looking at me. I was trying to smile and I couldn’t smile. People were asking me what was wrong. I didn’t like the way they were looking at me with pity because I still felt normal.
“While I was writing my business paper I couldn’t answer the simplest question and I was the top student for business. I don’t think I was fully present and inside I had an emotional turmoil.”
Ebraheem’s matric ball was also coming up and he began worrying about whether he would fully recover the use of his facial muscles.
“I began doubting whether I should go to the Matric ball, even though we had been waiting all year for it. I did not want to have people looking at me with pity. It would ruin my and their night.
Before the matric ball took place, while attending mosque, he listened attentively to the message being delivered that day. It was once again words that transformed into a powerful personal message for Ebraheem.
“They were speaking about being grateful for what you have. I began thinking that there are people worse off than me. This realisation made me feel grateful for what I had. I told myself, ‘so what if people are looking at me? As long as I feel I’m still normal, I’m still me.’”
His matric ball was a masquerade ball and with a sense of humour, Ebraheem reflects that considering his physical condition at the time, the theme was a lucky break for him.
“I wore black pants with a navy blazer and a black and white checked shirt. I had a black mask which just covered my eyes. The mask made me feel more at ease.
“I attended a Muslim school so it wasn’t a normal matric ball. It was a matric dinner. We were still dressed up. We had our awards ceremony that night, including academic and sports awards. A highlight was that I received first place in business studies and second place in history.”
“Accepting that I had Bell’s Palsy and being thankful that it is not a permanent condition, helped to take my mind off thinking about it. So, the recovery happened, without me almost thinking. One day, I just felt movement in my face again. It took three weeks for me to heal.
“I wouldn’t change anything. It made me learn more about myself and accept myself. I feel like they were life lessons that made me a stronger person. I learned how to say no and to be more grateful.”
When Ebraheem was asked for his last remarks, he said, “I believe that when you are faced with challenging situations, messages of hope will come your way. Life will speak to you in different shapes and forms. If you hear it, the biggest challenges become lessons that build your character. In your darkest moments, never forget, look for the messages that will bring light back.”
Ebraheem is a Life Choices Academy Alumnus.
*Bell's palsy is a condition in which the muscles on one side of the face become weak or paralyzed. It affects only one side of the face at a time, causing it to droop or become stiff on that side. The exact cause is unknown. It's believed to be the result of swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of your face. Or it might be a reaction that occurs after a viral infection.