Although it’s well past two, the West Side Bazaar is still filled with people eating lunch in the food court area. Along with the conversations of patrons, there’s the clanging of pots and pans from the kitchens of booths serving ethnic food from around the world.
Just as busy on the other side of the market is Nadeen Yousef, owner of Macramé by Nadeen and a refugee from Iraq. Running the store, which offers handmade, original macramé pieces and other items from the Arab world, is only part of Yousef’s day, however. She’s up every day at 3 a.m. for her job in the bakery department of a local Wegman’s. Yousef’s there until 11 or 12 a.m. before heading directly to the West Side Bazaar where she works until 5 or 6 at night.
She’s up every day at 3 a.m. for her job in the bakery department of a local Wegman’s. Yousef’s there until 11 or 12 a.m. before heading directly to the West Side Bazaar where she works until 5 or 6 at night..
Yousef hopes to grow and expand her West Side Bazaar business, which she started in early 2015. She’s in a good position to: Along with a passion for macramé and a tremendous work ethic, she also brings along a background in statistical sciences, which she has a bachelor’s degree in, and a business management certificate from the University of Buffalo. Her former job as a teacher in Iraq has also helped grow interest in her work and the art form, and she has been volunteering to teach macramé to students at the nearby West Side Charter School.
Entrepreneur. An example of courage and perseverance. A cultural ambassador through her art. Just any one of Yousef’s traits would have made her a worthy pick for Buffalonian of the Week, and we were glad to sit down and chat with her at her West Side Bazaar booth.
This interview was edited for length and clarity
Can you tell us what macramé is and the history of it?
It’s a kind of art like crochet. Knotting, but doesn’t need anything—it’s like braiding hair. I learned the basics of it when I was in high school in my country. Because I liked it so much, I took a course from professional women in this art. In a few months, I took part in an art show when I was just 15. It’s a very, very old art. Hundreds of years old. It’s funny because it was so popular in the U.S. in the 1970s. It disappeared and came back again [recently].
Why was it so popular back then?
I think it was [because of] the hippies. That’s what they’ve told me (laughter). But in my country it’s always been popular because you can make wall hangings and plant hangers just by hand, and you don’t need a machine to do it. Just rope, and you can do anything you want.
How did this store begin? Where did the idea come from?
It’s a fun story. Because, when we [first] came here, I didn’t have the idea about this store or the business. So, to do something at home, I started doing macramé. One time, I showed it to the case worker. After she saw it, she liked it and said, “Why don’t you start a business? You can just go to WEDI and show them what you have and the idea you have.”
Was it hard starting the store?
It was difficult for me because I had no idea about anything here. In the beginning, it was so hard. At that time, I didn’t have a car, so I had to use the bus. It’s much easier now.
Macramé isn’t the only thing you have in this store. What other things do sell?
Last year, I started to try something, so I got some stuff from Jordan. Every year, I go to Jordan to see my family, my mom. And I started to get some items to see if people would like it. They liked them so much, so now every time I go to Jordan and get this stuff. That’s another business aside from my [regular] business.
How has your life changed since you started this store?
It gives you power to do handle anything, so you don’t need to be worried. It makes you proud of yourself.
Is it a problem for you to work during Jumu’ah (noontime Muslim Friday prayer)? How is your day different because of it?
[It’s] the same. That’s in my country, not here. I pray every day, and it doesn’t mean I have to leave my work. In my religion, they say work is like praying. Especially for women, they’re always busy. Even when she doesn’t have a job, she’s always busy with the kids. She doesn’t have to leave work. Maybe people think Muslims are closedminded. Not all of them [are].
From Iraq to Syria, Syria to Turkey, Then Finally From Turkey to Buffalo
You’re originally from Iraq. How did you end up in Buffalo?
It was 2003. It was a very bad situation and many people started to leave the country. In 2006, there was [too much violence], and we went to Syria. We went and stayed there for six years, but then the war started there. We then moved to Turkey for several years, and then the U.S. accepted us [as refugees], but we had to spend a few months in Iraq [first].
How did it feel to move from Iraq, then to Syria, then to Turkey?
It was not easy to leave everything and start a new life with four kids. Every time they had to change schools and leave their friends. It was the same thing for me; I had to leave all the people I loved there.
I want to keep this business to show that all Muslims are not the same. If there’s one or two people are terrorists, it [doesn’t mean we’re] the same.
Were you in a refugee camp?
No, never. Many people, when you say you’re a refugee, they think you lived in a camp. But when you get time to leave early, you sell your car, you sell your house. You have a little bit money to start a new life. But if you leave it immediately, like what happened to the Syrian people, they leave everything. They just take their kids and leave. They don’t have to sell the house or anything [and, in that case], they have to live in a camp. But when you have a little bit of money, you can start a new life in a different country [and] rent a house. It’s not going to be at the same level like you used to live, but at least you will not live in a camp.
How did you feel about moving to Buffalo? Did you hear about the city before coming here?
I did hear about it. I have a family member, a cousin who came here [before me]. When we applied to go the U.S., they gave us three choices in three different states. Miami and I don’t remember the other one. We picked this one [because] we knew it’s a beautiful place. I know it’s cold, very cold. (laughter). But it’s not the whole year, just three months. I guess I also knew people here were friendly, welcoming,
After President Trump was elected, do you still feel comfortable living here as a Muslim and do business? Have you had any problems?
I haven’t had any problems. Every time when [people] talk to me, they say they’re sorry (laughter). They understand what’s going on. I want to keep this business to show that all Muslims are not the same. If there’s one or two people are terrorists, it doesn’t mean all Muslims are the same.
[Having the store] gives you power to do handle anything, so you don’t need to be worried. It makes you proud of yourself.
Are you planning to ever go back to Iraq?
Never, ever. There’s no country left. It’s all destroyed. If they want to solve the problem and make the country come back again, they can do it one year. If they want. And I’m not sure [about that].
What do you miss the most from your country?
When we sit together with my sisters at my parents’ house. We used to go there on the weekend with all my kids and my sisters. I miss that so much.
Thank you very much for your time.
You’re welcome! Thank you!