You can't be a parent and not breathe a long sigh of relief, followed by an incredulous "What was he thinking?" and an urge to spank, after reading this story. Sixteen year old Farris Hassan, an A student at a prestigious private high school in Fort Lauderdale, FL, took his journalism assignment on the road - to Baghdad. His trip took him through some of the most dangerous parts of the city where he tried to navigate his way aided only with an English - Arabic dictionary! Hassan is on his way home, courtesy the US 101st Airborne, who plan to keep him away from the media upon arrival because the army "does not plan to reward stupidity with celebrity." Hassan's extremely relieved mother has the right idea. She plans to confiscate his passport.
BAGHDAD - Maybe it was the time the taxi dumped him at the Iraq-Kuwait border, leaving him alone in the middle of the desert. Or when he drew a crowd at a Baghdad food stand after using an Arabic phrase book to order. Or the moment a Kuwaiti cab driver almost punched him in the face when he balked at the $100 (U.S.) fare.
But at some point, Farris Hassan, a 16-year-old from Florida, realized that travelling to Iraq by himself was not the safest thing he could have done with his Christmas vacation. And he didn't even tell his parents.
It begins with a Grade 11 high school class on "immersion journalism" and one overly eager — or naïvely idealistic — student who's lucky to be alive after going way beyond what any teacher would ask.
"I thought I'd go the extra mile for that, or rather, a few thousand miles," he said. (The topic of Hassan's journalism assignment was the Iraq war).
Using money his parents had given him at one point, he bought a $900 plane ticket and took off from school a week before Christmas vacation started, skipping classes and leaving the country on Dec. 11. His goal: Baghdad. Those privy to his plans: two high school buddies.
Travelling on his own in a land where insurgents and jihadists have kidnapped more than 400 foreigners, killing at least 39 of them, Hassan walked straight into a death zone. On Monday, his first full day in Iraq, six vehicle bombs exploded in Baghdad, killing five people and wounding more than 40.
Hassan's extra-mile attitude took him east through eight time zones, from Fort Lauderdale to Kuwait City. His plan was to take a taxi across the border and ultimately to Baghdad — an utterly dangerous route. ...
It was in Kuwait City that he first called his parents to tell them of his plans — and that he was now in the Middle East.
Attempting to get into Iraq, Hassan took a taxi from Kuwait City to the border, 90 kilometres away. He spoke English at the border and was soon surrounded by about 15 men, a scene he wanted no part of. On the drive back to Kuwait City, a taxi driver almost punched him when he balked at the fee. It could have been worse — the border could have been open.
"If they'd let me in from Kuwait, I probably would have died," he acknowledged. "That would have been a bad idea."
He again called his father, who told him to come home. But the teen insisted on going to Baghdad. His father advised him to stay with family friends in Beirut, Lebanon, so he flew there, spending 10 days before flying to Baghdad on Christmas. His ride at Baghdad International Airport, arranged by the family friends in Lebanon, dropped him off at an international hotel where Americans were staying.
He says he only strayed far from that hotel once, in search of food. He walked into a nearby shop and asked for a menu. When no menu appeared, he pulled out his Arabic phrase book, and after fumbling around found the word "menu." The stand didn't have one. Then a worker tried to read some of the English phrases.
"And I'm like, `Well, I should probably be going.' It was not a safe place. The way they were looking at me kind of freaked me out," he said.
It was mid-afternoon on Tuesday, after his second night in Baghdad, that he sought out editors at the Associated Press and announced he was in Iraq to do research and humanitarian work. AP staffers had never seen an unaccompanied teenage American walk into their war zone office. ("I would have been less surprised if little green men had walked in," said editor Patrick Quinn.)
The AP quickly called the U.S. Embassy. Embassy officials had been on the lookout for Hassan, at the request of his parents. One U.S. military officer said he was shocked the teen was still alive. The 101st Airborne lieutenant who picked him up from the hotel said it was the wildest story he'd ever heard.