Before he came over to Lebanon, Baraa Serajeddi thought that Lebanese people lived the way MTV [a Lebanese TV channel] depicted – everyone was comfortable and happy, and they only cared about recreational activities such as partying all night, travelling abroad and so on. He found out, however, that Lebanon was very a similar place to Syria in terms of social and economic standards of living. In fact, it was very like Syria and there was not a huge difference despite what TV suggested.
Serageldin worked for 4 years in a coffee shop in Tripoli, where his work was to serve water pipes [Argileh] to the clients. He continued in his work until he became a master [mu’allem] in his craft. Meanwhile, he was studying English literature at the Lebanese University. At that time, he had to speak using the local Tripolian dialect to avoid the bullying he was subjected to if he spoke using the Syrian dialect. Either when people mocked him or the bullying was done in a more serious way. When he graduated, he changed his field of work to be more civil society oriented. This type of job was viewed socially in a more positive manner. Then, he began to use his native dialect again after he had built confidence during his interaction with the community.
“I used to speak in a Tripolian dialect because I lived in a popular and marginalized area. It was a region where social pressures were building up and taken out on Syrians there. A Syrian man might be beaten up in the middle of the street because he looked wrongly at a local, says Baraa. “In general, however, from beginning my work and my studies up until today I have good relations with Lebanese people who gave me a helping hand in various ways, even on the moral level.”
After his graduation, Baraa got a scholarship from the Lebanese International University to complete a diploma in the education of children with post-traumatic disorders. Later, his network expanded after being limited to the university students that lived with him. This expansion took place while he worked on a project that focused on the educational aspects of 500 students with whom he has direct contact.
The period of eight years that Baraa spent in Lebanon changed his views on many things. He has known the whole of Qur'an by heart since the age of 15 because of his religious family. His mother still is responsible for teaching religion to about 500 women in seven mosques in Syria. Today, Baraa defines himself as a spiritual non-devout Muslim because he has many questions that he cannot explain through religion.
“I found myself here in an area where the inhabitants were religious in appearance only but their behavior, way of thinking and everything except their form is contrary to what I considered to be religion.” He adds, “They were violent, liars, evil and opportunistic. This was true in addition to all the things that happened around you and the various disasters that took place shook your innermost convictions. Religion is still a part of my personality, of my way of thinking and my identity, but it does not dominate the other parts of my life.”
On the other hand, the civil society work experience influenced Baraa's understanding of Lebanese society. He understood societies in general rather than in any particular manner in terms of how they behave and why they behave in one way or another. His views were laden with hate and with negative reactions towards previous instances of harassment. Nevertheless, he later learned that people could suffer because of unfairness in the distribution of resources or absence of rights. They would react to that and that it was not their fault per se but those who ruled over them ought to be blamed.
“I met people through social activities who gave you hope, who accepted your presence among them and wanted to work with you hand in hand to benefit their family as well as yours", Baraa says. "When I chose the activities that I took part in, the chances of meeting people who reflected a negative image of Lebanese society became much lower than before.”