A 16-year-old who took off to Iraq alone to experience the lives of its people firsthand, arrived back in Florida yesterday, ending a three-week Middle East odyssey much to the relief of his parents.
Farris Hassan, who set off for Iraq as a journalism project, was getting a crash course in media as throngs of reporters and photographers waited for him at Miami International Airport and each of his parents' homes.
"I do want to tell you how flattered I am. The media has been very, very kind to me," the teenager told The Associated Press by phone from his father's car. "I hope to get a good night's rest."
The teenager had skipped school and left the United States on December 11, traveling to Kuwait, where he thought he could take a taxi into Baghdad to witness the December 15 parliamentary elections. The border was closed for the elections, so Farris went to stay with family friends in Lebanon, before flying to Baghdad on Christmas.
His goal, he said, was to better understand what the Iraqis are living through. The prep school junior had recently studied immersion journalism, in which the writer lives the life of his subject.
"I thought I'd go the extra mile for that, or rather, a few thousand miles," he told the AP last week.
He was able to secure an entry visa for Iraq because both of his parents were born there, though they've been in the United States for more than three decades. He took his U.S. passport and US$1,800 in cash, but didn't tell his family what he was doing until he arrived in Kuwait and sent them an e-mail.
Farris' long journey home began Friday, when he was put on a military flight from Baghdad to Kuwait, his father said. He spent a day and a half under the watch of the 101st Airborne, the same division that had picked him up from a Baghdad hotel.
A U.S. official then accompanied the teen on a flight from Kuwait to Europe, and from there he flew home to the United States, said his father, Dr. Redha Hassan.
The State Department has warned Americans not to visit Iraq. Forty U.S. citizens have been kidnapped since the war started in March 2003, and 10 of them have been killed, U.S. officials say. About 15 are missing.
Now that he's back, Farris has some answering to do to some worried adults.
"He's very overwhelmed. I don't think he had any idea about all the media coverage," his mother, Shatha Atiya, told reporters gathered outside her Fort Lauderdale home. "He's just tired, he wants to rest."
Officials at Pine Crest School, the academy Farris attends in Fort Lauderdale, have asked for a meeting with his parents before he is allowed to return to class. School officials were not available for comment Sunday night.
While in Iraq, Hassan said he thought a trip to the Middle East was a healthy vacation compared with a trip to Colorado for holiday skiing.
"You go to, like, the worst place in the world and things are terrible," he said. "When you go back home you have such a new appreciation for all the blessing you have there, and I'm just going to be, like, ecstatic for life."
His mother said he planned to spend yesterday night at his father's home. She declined to comment further about his journey or the reaction.
However, earlier, when asked what would happen when her son got home, she said: "When he first gets off the plane, I'm going to hug him. Then I'm going to collapse for a few hours, and then we're going to sit down for a long discussion about the consequences."
"We would like to have some quiet time," The Miami Herald reported quoted the mother as saying, adding that potential groundings or other at-home discipline Hassan would face as a result of his much-publicized trip would be discussed in a "private talk" between her and him.