I thought I was brave when I questioned my high school journalism teachers. Farris Hassan is a madman. Well, make that a madboy since he's only 16. He wanted to live immersion journalism, not just read and discuss it.
Using money his parents had given him, 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.
Given his heritage, Hassan 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. His wispy beard was meant to help him blend in.
But underneath that Mideast veneer was full-blooded American teen, a born-and-bred Floridian sporting white Nike tennis shoes and trendy jeans. And as soon as the lanky, 6-foot teenager opened his mouth — he speaks no Arabic — his true nationality would have 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, 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.
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Eight time zones
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 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.
His mother, Shatha Atiya, a psychologist, said she was "shocked and terrified." She had told him she would take him to Iraq, but only after the country stabilizes.
"He thinks he can be an ambassador for democracy around the world. It’s admirable but also agony for a parent," Atiya said.
Attempting to get into Iraq, Hassan took a taxi from Kuwait City to the border 55 miles 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.
"In one day I probably spent like $250 on taxis," he said. "And they’re so evil too, because they ripped me off, and when I wouldn't pay the ripped-off price they started threatening me. It was bad."
MSNBC has provided excerpts from Hassan's essays.
Posted by ronn at December 30, 2005 01:16 AM