LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS 11) - Friends Auto service sits just two blocks north of Churchill Downs. At first glance, it’s just your average tire shop, until you meet its owner.
“I did not like Saddam, and so I end up uprising against Saddam. We went outside, me and my friends, in this small town, and tore up his picture down,” explained Safaa Alzohairi who fled Iraq during the Gulf War, fearing retaliation.
His tire shop is now his refuge. “America is a good country and they open the door for a lot of people, different nationality. It’s very good country, it’s a great country.”
For Safaa, America means an opportunity to run his own business, and the way he runs it is a bit out of the ordinary. If you pass his shop on a nice day, you’ll see Macaw, after Macaw, after Macaw, lining his fence.
“Bird is fun. You know, they don’t make me stressed.”
That’s a good thing… because birds are everywhere you look at the shop. Macaws (a type of parrot), pigeons, parakeets, chickens, a cockatoo. I asked Safaa how many birds he owns, he said "too many to count.”
“[They’re] better than some humans. Don’t take me wrong, but it’s fun. Something’s amazing. Believe it or not, when I leave, they miss me, and I miss them too. And when I come, some of them say ‘hello.’ It’s fun, bird is fun,” said Safaa.
His love for feathered friends started early, when he got his first bird as a young boy in Iraq.
“The parakeet, I remember it flew away, and I was crying and my dad he took me to a neighbor and I remember he gave me a white pigeon. I saw the pigeon and I stopped crying.”
Now he has lots of pigeons, that get to make his refuge, their refuge. A great home for Safaa and his many birds.
“I’m dreaming to stay here.”
Safaa says he’s been back to Iraq two times since leaving and it’s always good to see his family and friends and get back to his roots. That said, he says America is his new home, and this is where he wants to live.