Thursday, December 9

Dean Nicholson’s World of Nala – A Man and His Cat | Travel literature


WWhen Dean Nicholson left his hometown of Dunbar on Scotland’s east coast in September 2018, he had just turned 30 and was planning to cycle around the world. This was not just a physical endurance test, it was also an attempt to escape the daily grind and find a new purpose in life: “I hit the road to find a way.” What he did not expect, however, was that “a scrawny gray and white kitten” would show him the way.

In early December, he was in the mountains of southern Bosnia, on his way to the Montenegrin border, when he heard a meow from behind his bicycle. Strolling along the road was “a quarrelsome little thing” that fit in the palm of his hand, with “pointy ears, thin legs and a thick tail.” She also had beautiful big green eyes.

Fearing the kitten would be run over or snatched up by a bird of prey, Dean stuffed it into the bag on the front of his bike. But when he started riding his bike, she jumped up onto his shoulders and quickly fell asleep around his neck. Although he admits that he has always been more of a canine person, his heart was conquered by the kitten he named Nala, in honor of Simba’s childhood friend in The Lion King. It also means “gift” in Swahili.

He himself admitted that they were a strange couple: “We were an unusual spectacle; a big, bearded, tattooed guy on a bike, with a kitten sitting on his shoulder like Long John Silver’s parrot. “But Nala was” a magnet for people “and wherever they went, they were the center of attention. Nala had ‘the ability to put a smile on faces regardless of religion, age or culture ”.

When a website published an article about him and Nala, his followers on Instagram (1bike1world) soared from 3,000 to 150,000 in one day. After increased media coverage, he had 800,000 followers on YouTube and Instagram. Strangers stopped him on the street and asked him to take selfies with Nala: “It was impossible to believe how many people had been moved by our little story,” he writes.

But it was only when he started raising money for local animal welfare charities that Nicholson realized something extraordinary was happening. A photo calendar of Nala raised £ 90,000 for 30 charities: “She hadn’t just changed my world,” he writes. “She had changed the world around me.”

Abandoned in Hungary by the Covid-19 pandemic (and taking care of the house of a Hungarian couple who follow him on Instagram), he took stock of what he had achieved: he had traveled to 18 countries and, thanks to Nala, he had become different : “He was a wiser, calmer and more mature person than the slightly savage character that Dunbar left over a year and a half earlier.”

Nicholson’s account of what traveling author Hermann Hesse called “the life of a totally free wanderer” is poignant and utterly charming. It’s also a remarkable testament to the power of social media to harness the kindness of strangers.

Once, as he was preparing to spend the night on a bench in a small town in Turkey, two women approached him after seeing his Instagram post and invited him to stay at their home. And while he was camping in a forest near Belgrade, a woman woke him up one cold February morning with a flask of hot coffee and a can of tuna for Nala. Her husband had recognized the forest from the photo he had posted. Nicholson’s road trip has taught him the truth of what a Syrian refugee once told him: “Be a blessing to others and you will be blessed.”

• Nala’s World is a Hodder & Stoughton publication (£ 18.99). To purchase a copy, go to guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply


www.theguardian.com

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