Friday, December 30, 2005

This Kid Is So Grounded…

From the Miami Herald:

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 fare.

But at some point, Farris Hassan, a 16-year-old from Fort Lauderdale, realized that traveling 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 — who were ”shocked and terrified” when Farris called from the Middle East.

Farris’ dangerous adventure winds down with the 101st Airborne delivering the teen to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, which had been on the lookout for him, and his expected arrival home Sunday night.

It begins with a high school class on ”immersion journalism” and one overly eager — or naively idealistic — student who’s lucky to be alive.

As a junior at Pine Crest School, Farris studied immersion journalism — when a writer lives the life of his subject in order to better understand it.

Diving headfirst into an assignment to write editorials about the Iraq war, Farris, whose parents were born in Iraq but have lived in the United States for about 35 years, decided to ”go the extra mile for that, or rather, a few thousand miles,” he said.

Using money his parents had given him at one point, he bought a $900 plane ticket and — telling no one but two school buddies — left the country Dec. 11 with the goal of reaching Baghdad.

Given his heritage, Farris could almost pass as Iraqi. His father’s background helped him secure an entry visa, and native Arabs would see in his face Iraqi features and a familiar skin tone.

But underneath that Mideast veneer was a full-blooded American teen, a born-and-bred Floridian sporting white Nike tennis shoes and trendy jeans. And as soon as the six-foot teen opened his mouth — he speaks no Arabic — his true nationality betrayed him.

Traveling on his own in a land where insurgents and jihadists have kidnapped more than 400 foreigners, killing at least 39 of them, Farris 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.

Farris’ 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 unconventional, expensive and 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.


Dangerous and dramatic, Farris’ trip has also been educational. He said he had tea with Kuwaitis under a tent in the middle of a desert. He says he interviewed Christians in south Lebanon. And he said he spoke with U.S. soldiers guarding his Baghdad hotel who told him they are treated better by Sunni Arabs than by the majority Shiites.

Farris says he learned a lot: ”You go to, like, the worst place in the world and things are terrible. When you go back home you have such a new appreciation for all the blessings you have there, and I’m just going to be, like, ecstatic for life.”

His mother, however, sees things differently.

”I don’t think I will ever leave him in the house alone again,” she said.

I’ve heard about sucking up for extra credit, but this is ridiculous.