Living Days
January 4, 2006

Everyone has had one of those moments in time. You think, "Hey, I oughta ...." My friends in high school talked about going to El Salvador or Nicaragua and helping the rebels. We knew little of the conflict and little of the politics, but it was a neat thing to think. We often talked about "if we had just been teenagers in the 60s, we could have been actively marching for civil rights." Our creative writing class wanted to publish a little magazine of our short stories ... but we wanted a PG-13 rating so we could use words like crap, damn and shit. Hey, we were about 16, 17 years old ... I think almost every one of us had some "curse word" in a story. Our teacher went to bat for us, fighting for our right to free speech. No dice ... the school board was appalled that we'd even had the temerity to ask.

We began organizing an underground magazine ... complete with protest against the school and selling of the magazine off school property.

Most of the protesters were seniors. The principal took one of them aside, said he would withold graduation from anyone who protested, whether we did so legally and off-campus or not. Despite the fact that most of these kids knew the laws and knew that we wouldn't dare do that (most of us were in the top quarter of our class ... including several students in the top 12) ... they ALL caved. Instantly.

Evidently, though, Fort Lauderdale builds them with a little more resolve. After a class on immersion journalism, one student decided that he wanted "to live my days so that my nights are not full of regrets."

And what was his interest? Iraq. He claimed he wanted to broaden his mind and said, "I want to experience during my Christmas the same hardships ordinary Iraqis experience everyday [sic], so that I may better emphathize with their distress."

However, like most teenagers with a bright idea, his plan had a couple of flaws. Now look, I'm a big believer in the fact that "kids" can do just about anything they put their minds to. I'm not one of those "grown-ups" who believes that kids are stupid or that they never think things through, et cetera. I've known a lot of kids who can plan circles around adults.

This boy was not one of them.

He must have started off well as he managed to leave the U.S. without his parents' knowledge. I've no idea what fast one he pulled on them, but he flew to Kuwait and then ... here's flaw number two (I'm working around to number one): he thought he could just hop a taxi and jump across the border from Kuwait into Iraq. I mean, really ... you can take a taxi anywhere, right?

Undaunted by this, he journeyed onward to Lebanon and stayed with some family friends for a few days ... then hopped a plane to Baghdad.

(In a vague and obligatory defense of my friends and I at his age, I don't think any of us had access to that kind of cash ... flight to Kuwait, travel to Lebanon, flight to Baghdad, living expenses in Baghdad ....)

Once in Baghdad, you'd think that since he'd been inspired by a class in immersion journalism, Farris Hassan would now attempt to blend in and immerse himself in the culture.

Instead, he stayed at an international hotel ... and then revealed to himself flaw number one:

Farris Hassan does not speak Arabic.

And, in fact, looking at a picture of him on the BBC report of his little adventure, the boy managed to look very American somehow. Check out this article from the BBC for pictures (and some details).

Evidently the young Hassan didn't really think the lack of speaking Arabic was a big deal ... until he pulled out a little phrase book while in the middle of a marketplace. At that moment, he finally thought, "Hey, I could be in trouble." Apparently people started looking at him funny.

Now, I'm torn on his next action. He went to the local AP bureau and told them who he was and what he had done. Now see, if he was truly there for the experience, wouldn't he have holed up in his room for a few days and tried to study some basic Arabic so he could pull it off? Then again, I've no doubt that Farris was in danger and he probably should have gone home ... but I'm not so sure that he truly lived his days so he would not regret his nights. He saw an international hotel and a few minutes of a marketplace. How was this really experiencing the everyday hardships of the Iraqi people? Yes, he certainly did more in that direction than the average teenager ... but did he accomplish the goal that he set for himself?

I would say no. He did extricate himself from a dangerous situation before anything happened to him and should be applauded for showing that level of good sense.

However, besides not truly considering all of the ramifications of going to Iraq, Farris also didn't seem to truly think through the consequences of returning home after this little escapade. His mom said that "We are going to watch his every move. We are going to take his passport. We're going to limit his access to money."

You'd think that a boy who lives in the U.S. and has Iraqi parents might have thought they'd be a little upset about his trip ... of course, I'm sure that's why he didn't tell them ahead of time.

Oh, and evidently his school wants to meet with his parents before he's allowed to return to school ... evidently they did not consider this an extra credit assignment!

But, I will give him this ... he saw one of those moments and he did make an effort to grab it. He may lay awake at night later on, regreting that he didn't plan the excursion better and actually get to experience Iraqi life as he'd intended to do. But ... he did attempt to grab his moment and live it fully. How many of us can say that?

Posted by Red Monkey at January 4, 2006 3:26 PM | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


EF said:

I don't know what to think about this kid. All I know is that if Lumpy or Bombaloo EVER tried a stunt even half as crazy as that and lived to tell about it, I WOULD KILL THEM! (figuratively of course.)
And how does a kid get his hands on that kind of money without his parents noticing?

January 4, 2006 7:16 PM


The Unknown said:

I agree, he did grab his moment. I've grabbed a few in my time but nothing that can be sold in a big dollar book deal or movie of the week.

January 5, 2006 1:14 AM


Marti said:

I am a mother it would scare the bejesus out of me to have a child of mine do that.

But as an interested bystander, I thought it was pretty cool. LOL

January 5, 2006 8:54 AM


miteymite said:

Guppyman sent me and I'm glad he did. I like your blog a lot.

As for the kid, I'm of two minds. Gotta admire the adventurous spirit, but what was he thinking?!!!!

January 6, 2006 4:59 PM


seawave said:

Well, as poorly executed as the final chapter in his adventure turned out to be, his resourcefulness in actually making it to Iraq in the first place is pretty stunning, particularly without any awareness of his parents. I do agree that to have the courage to grab moments and make the most of them is something to be admired. Hopefully witth growth and maturity, he will hold on to those ideals.

January 6, 2006 7:39 PM
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