By A.C. Robinson 3/3/2018
ALQOSH, Iraq – With a boisterous laugh and calm nature, one would not imagine that Basima al-Safar lived her life alone and suffered from great sadness a few short years ago.
Safar said that after losing her mother and one of her brothers to illnesses in 2013, she was overcome with grief and was unable to leave her home. She also mentioned that another brother of hers had gone missing several years ago at the age of 20 while fighting at the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.
In order to battle her sorrow, Safar, a Chaldean Christian, made the decision to turn her home into a “happy place” by painting it in bright colors and displaying images of Christian figures and symbols. She never imagined it would draw visitors from near and afar.
Safar, who was born in her house in 1958 and has lived there all of her life, said it took her two-and-a-half months in 2013 to paint the outside and decorate the inside garden area. She has continued to add more art through the years.
She happily welcomes strangers into her home-turned-museum, providing tours and explaining her life story. She receives many people from across Iraq and abroad who come to tour Alqosh, some of them coming specifically to see her home.
“People come from all regions to see how I changed my house into a museum with a simple talent,” she said, adding that busloads of people periodically arrive from Asia, Europe, North America, and the Middle East as well as across Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.
Safar, who has no formal art training, said she has always been interested in art and joked that even during primary school, when the teacher was lecturing, she always found herself drawing or coloring pictures instead of listening during class.
In a newer venture she started a year ago, Safar said she also writes and directs live plays, which take place at different venues throughout her village that are played in either Arabic or Assyrian/Neo-Aramaic. So far, she had directed more than 30 plays using satire as a form of entertainment about the lives of Alqosh residents in the past and future.
Alqosh, 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Mosul, is a Christian village in the Nineveh plains that escaped three years of ISIS control in Iraq unscathed.
As ISIS was approaching their village in 2014, most of the residents fled their homes to the safety of Duhok in the Kurdistan Region, with only a small group of people remaining behind to protect their homes against thieves.
Locals say the group who stayed behind claimed an image of the Virgin Mary appeared, and even though ISIS came within three kilometers of the village, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces drove the militants away and their homes have remained safe since.