Cousins who defied the Taliban sell clothes from abroad at Kamm’s Corners

Asia Star, Nasrullah Stafi models clothes from his native Afghanistan. Photo: Grant Segall.

Asia Star, Nasrullah Stafi models clothes from his native Afghanistan. Photo: Grant Segall.

Two cousins used to interpret for the U.S. Army in their native Kabul.

Now they’re selling Asian and African clothing and housewares at Kamm’s Corners.

It’s not a coincidence.

They say they came here to flee the Taliban, who attacked American collaborators in Afghanistan.

“They would target not only them but their families,” says Navidullah Raheen. “There were people killed or kidnapped.”

For their military work, Raheen and his cousin, Nasrullah Safi, qualified for special visas. Safi emigrated in 2015 to Cleveland, where a friend lived. Raheen followed in 2017. On Feb. 5 of this year, they started doing what they used to do back home: run a store.

Asia Star clothes from afar. Photo: Grant Segall.

Asia Star clothes from afar. Photo: Grant Segall.

Their old place sold groceries, but Cleveland has many outlets for food from abroad. Instead, the cousins opened Asia Star Clothing and Houseware at 17108 Lorain Ave., selling dresses, scarves, headgear, bracelets, carpets, flags, cups, flasks, blankets, clocks and more.

Some of Asia Star’s goods are handmade, but none are expensive. The costliest item goes for $300: a Turkish carpet 7.9 feet by 10.7 feet.

As COVID-19 wanes, the cousins hope that Cleveland’s many ethnic festivals will resume, boosting sales of regalia. “We have a diverse cultural community in Cleveland,” says Safi, “Nepalis, Pakis, Iraqis, Palestinians, Ugandans, Tanzanians, Somalians…”

The cousins are Muslim and attend mosques. But they say they believe in religious freedom, unlike the Taliban, which ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

“They do not believe in democracy or human rights,” says Safi. “They kill Muslims and non-Muslims. Anyone they can kill, they kill.”

So the cousins welcomed U.S. troops. “They fight terrorism there,” says Safi, “and they help our people in rebuilding the country.”

Asia Star kitchenware. Photo: Grant Segall.

Asia Star kitchenware. Photo: Grant Segall.

In Cleveland, the cousins work long hours without other help. The store opens daily at 10 a.m. It closes at 9 p.m. six days a week and at 7 p.m. on Sundays.

Rosemary Mudry, who runs West Park Kamm’s Neighborhood Development, says locals were traveling out of state for Asian and African goods before Asia Star opened. The store reminds her of many opened generations ago by West Park’s Irish immigrants. “We’re seeing another wave of people coming to the far west side of Cleveland who see business niches not being filled and want to provide services for those making a home here.”

Councilman Charles Slife of Ward 17 attended the store’s opening. He says, “The opening of immigrant-owned businesses strengthens our local economy and reminds us that Cleveland continues to attract newcomers from around the world. Asia Star Clothing and Houseware brings the world to Kamm’s Corners and is a reflection of the diversity found throughout West Park.”

The cousins like Cleveland in turn. “At first,” says Safi, “it was a bit hard: the language, the culture. Now we’re happy.” 

Each cousin brought a wife and children here. Safi hopes to take a citizenship test soon, while Raheen has to wait two more years.

“The new generation will be happy here,” says Safi, “and one day they will thank us.”

Grant Segall is a national-prizewinning reporter who spent 34 years with The Plain Dealer. He has also published freelance articles, fiction, and “John D. Rockefeller: Anointed With Oil” (Oxford University Press).

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