A decade ago, Jenny “Q” Qaqundah started Grateful Desert, an herb shop and apothecary in Joshua Tree, California.
Qaqundah and her partner, Myshkin Warbler, recently opened a sister store, Grateful Rain, on Commercial Street in Astoria.
The offerings are ambitious but represent the background of Qaqundah, a registered nurse and herbalist for more than 25 years. The front showroom splits between an apothecary and aromatherapy bar.
“I’ve studied herbs, and I’m also an RN,” Qaqundah said. “I see clients one-on-one and then formulate (a plan) for them… As an herbalist and an RN, I can talk to people and educate people about health, about herbs and help guide them to what would be best for them.”
Qaqundah, a child of Palestinian immigrants, filled a back room with Middle Eastern specialties such as dates, olives, oils, falafel, tahini and Baba ganoush. She curates a small educational library on herbs and health.
Qaqundah said she has worked with and referred people to Vicki McAfee, an herbalist who runs A Gypsy’s Whimsy Herbal Apothecary, just down the street.
“I come from Joshua Tree, where all the stores downtown, we often sell the same things, but we also support each other,” Qaqundah said. “It’s a really tight community... Up here, it really felt the same.”
Most of the store is Qaqundah’s brainchild. but Warbler, an eclectic blues, folk and global singer-songwriter, restores a small collection of vintage string instruments.
“I’m kind of focusing on vintage string instruments, because that’s what I know and what I have a passion for,” Warbler said. “… We’re going to be carrying strings, and cables and stands.”
Grateful Rain is one of few places in Astoria to carry instruments since the departure of Thiel’s Music in 2019. Qaqundah said the couple could offer some instruments on consignment.
“It’s very eclectic and fun,” Qaqundah said of the shop. “I mean, why not have a shop with all your favorite things?”
A journey of trust
Warbler first met Qaqundah, who lived in Joshua Tree with her daughter Yazzy, while on tour after releasing a new record, “That Diamond Lust.” The new couple were soon tested in 2014 when Qaqundah suffered a small cut that plunged her into septic shock.
“I went into a coma and had to learn how to move a finger, and was in an ICU unit for six months, and then in and out of the hospital for another six months,” Qaqundah said. “I had 51 surgeries within that six months.”
Qaqundah would lose both legs below the knees and five fingers. She published a book about the experience and her recovery titled, “Held Together.” Warbler created “Trust and the Highwire,” a collection of blues, folk, rock and jazz compositions from her perspective during the ordeal, and paired with a book of lyrics, poems and collages.
Warbler and Qaqundah fused their works into a live performance piece, “Trust.Together,” and went on tour in 2018 with 15-year-old Yazzy. Warbler had by that point played several iterations of the Tenor Guitar Gathering in Astoria. The family stopped on tour by KALA, a gallery and performance space on Marine Drive.
“We were just in an RV taking a big family camping trip and doing the gigs all up and down the coast,” Qaqundah said. “And we stepped out of the RV here, and all three of us were stunned. All three of us said immediately that this is where we want to be.”