The excellent adventure of Farris Hassan, the 16-year-old Ft. Lauderdale teen who skipped out on his high-school journalism class in order to report first-hand on the elections in Iraq, ended its current chapter on Sunday when he returned home to his family after his nearly three-week journey.
He arrived at Miami International Airport shortly after 7 p.m. to a crush of awaiting journalists and photographers, though he could say nothing as his family rushed him out of the terminal.
“He’s just extremely tired and overwhelmed – and so am I,” the boy’s mother, Shatha Atiya, a psychologist, told the press, as reported by the Miami Herald.
“He’s tired and very overwhelmed with everything that happened,” reiterated his sister, Shehnaz Hassan.
But Farris’s 23-year-old brother, Hayder Hassan, was more outspoken, according to the Balitmore Sun. Said Hayder: “I’m furious with him. He knows the ass whuppin’ he’s going to get.”
Whether or not his seat was red, Farris finally spoke to the Associated Pres later on Sunday, in a phone call from his father’s car. “I do want to tell you how flattered I am. The media has been very, very kind to me. … I hope to get a good night’s rest.”
On Dec. 11, Farris sneaked away from his parents and bought a $900 plane ticket and flew to Iraq on a flight from Lebanon, saying that he was pursuing his interest in news reporting as suggested by his high-school journalism teacher.
Farris, a junior at the exclusive Pine Crest prep school, is the youngest of four children of a South Florida physician, the Iraqi-born Redha Hassan and his wife, both of whom have lived in the U.S. for more than 30 years. The elder Hassans are divorced.
Redha Hassan told his local paper, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, that the only warning his son left behind was an e-mail. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about me, I will be safe.'”
But his father worried. “I said to myself, ‘You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.’ For $100, they kidnap people. The suicide bombers, they look for foreigners. He’s young, with an American passport and doesn’t speak a word of Arabic.”
Still, Farris’s moxie had him traveling throughout the Middle East for two weeks before walking into a war zone office of the Associated Press in Baghdad.
Stunned AP employees immediately called the U.S. Embassy – where officials took custody of him and contacted his parents as the process began to return him home – although his father was quite willing to allow his son to continue his adventure, within certain limits.
Redha Hassan told the Sun-Sentinel that he gave his son the choice of coming home or going to Beirut for a week to stay with family friends, and then head to Baghdad once the border opened and private security could be arranged.
“I felt it would leave a scar, disappointing him in his young life,” Redha Hassan said of shipping Farris home. “I learned long ago that if you say no, they stick to the point and insist on doing it. Nothing fazed him.”
By Tuesday morning, Farris was due to return to school where he was facing another difficult challenge: a calculus test.