MIAMI – A 16-year-old who took off to Iraq alone to experience the lives of its people firsthand, arrived back in Florida on Sunday, ending a three-week Middle East odyssey much to the relief of his parents.
Farris Hassan, who said it all started out as a personal journalism project, was getting a crash course in media as throngs of reporters and photographers waited for him at Miami International Airport.
He smiled and gave a thumbs up before joining his family in a waiting car.
"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."
Farris had cut school on Dec. 11 and left the United States, traveling to Kuwait, where he thought he could take a taxi into Baghdad to witness the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. The border was closed for the elections, so he went to stay with family friends in Lebanon, before flying to Baghdad on Christmas.
He contacted The Associated Press bureau in Baghdad on Tuesday and related his story.
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 $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.
Officials at Pine Crest School, the academy he attends in Fort Lauderdale, have asked for a meeting with his parents before he is allowed to return to class.
His mother, Shatha Atiya, said Sunday that he planned to spend that night at his father's home.
"He's very overwhelmed. I don't think he had any idea about all the media coverage," she said of her son. She declined to comment further about his journey or the family's reaction.
Earlier, however,m when asked what would happen when Farris 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."