As I scanned around the semi-crowded coffee shop bustling with people of all ages, genders and races, I noticed how different people were from each other. I wondered what hidden talents lay behind each face and just how true was the saying, “to judge a book by its cover.” Just then a tall girl dressed modestly yet colourfully in slacks, a bright tunic and a printed scarf and accompanied by her mother approached me and introduced herself. Afra Galadari was shy at first as we placed our orders for a hot chocolate, a cafe latte and an iced mocha. But as soon as we sat down and got talking about what she loves to do most, her eyes lit up and all shyness was forgotten.
For those who haven’t heard or read about this talented 15 year old Emirati, Afra Galadari is a tenth grader at Dubai International School who spends a majority of her time drawing animated Japanese cartoons—anime.
“For as long as I can remember I’ve been drawing these cartoons,” begins Afra. “I got inspired when I was a kid and watched Japanese animated cartoons on TV. I guess it’s something you start as a kid and get better at it as you get older,” she says modestly.
“I’ve always drawn such cartoons,” Afra continues. What’s refreshing about this teen is that she hasn’t had any formal training for her talent, which is what instantly impresses and makes one think of the greatest achievers in almost every field. “I took some courses to learn the basics of art like anatomy, animals and other forms, but I discontinued that since it wasn’t interesting.
So what inspires her to make her own characters? “It’s the people around me and the funny things they do,” she smiles. “I also love the creator of Pokemon, Takeshi Shudō. I like how he creates little creatures from his mind. It’s sad that Pokemon might not continue with the recent demise of Takeshi,” Afra ponders.
Afra gets a lot of encouragement from her school, friends and family. Last year she was able to print her artwork on T-shirts and sell them at her school annual fete. But her family does ensure that she stays grounded and improves her work. She believes her dad is her biggest critic. “He always tells me exactly what is wrong or what needs to be changed or what might look better,” Afra says. But does she always agree with her dad’s opinions? Like any normal 15-year old, “No!” she replies instantly and laughs. “I always listen to his suggestions and advice but I sometimes don’t agree with him.
Unlike many young adults her age, Afra already knows what she’d like to do later on in life. “I would love to make my own comic books one day,” her eyes sparkle as she opens up. “I also want to go to a fashion school because I want to create something and bring it to life. Something that is bursting with life!”
To be honest, what she said kinda took me by surprise. When I was 15 years old, I wanted to be a pop star like the Spice Girls! Her statements made me realise how much things have changed and how much faster kids grow up these days.
This gets me to finally give in to my curiosity and ask her what a typical day is like in the life of such a dynamic young teenager. “Pretty boring!” she giggles.