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#134 Driving a Beater

January 30, 2012

Submitted by Kolberg

There’s only one thing that real Expat Aid Workers like more than a cushy, air-conditioned Land Cruiser washed by their security guard every morning – and that’s an old, beat up sedan, probably a Toyota Corolla, bought at a second-hand dealer, or off of a local guy, who, despite the $4,000 price tag, probably got a 100% markup anyway.

Much like going native, or participating in symbolic local traditions, driving an old car proves that you’re just so much more in touch with the community of the country you’re patronizing. To top it off, it provides a huge amount of field cred, showing that there’s no need for you to drive an extravagant vehicle just because you’re paid around 500 times the average local salary.


In countries where security is an issue, driving a beater is an extra plus on the field cred account.

Some NGO’s, especially the large international ones, will require you to drive armored cars, or at least ones that meet certain standards of size, capability etc. (and this will 99% of the time be a Land Cruiser). EAW’s who defy these requirements are badass. Nuff said.

There’s a different category of EAW likely to drive an old crappy car than the one described above. And that’s the guy who doesn’t have the pay grade/seniority to have a chauffeur-driven Land Cruiser at his disposal at all times, and thus is responsible for his own transportation. He will drive his 1983 pale green Corolla with pride, frowning at all the gas-guzzling 4×4’s and their owners, because who needs a large SUV to get from office to the expat coffee shop, really??

However, more often than not, his point of view will pivot the day he gets an offer for that comfy desk job that comes with perks such as a nice McMansion and – yes, a chauffeured Land Cruiser with an A/C cold enough to make a polar bear sneeze.

Until then – drive on (if your car isn’t in the shop, that is).

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Rich McClear permalink
    January 30, 2012 1:12 pm

    The reason I drove a beater a decade ago was simple. Who would steal an old Skoda? Or better yet, a new Yugo? I never had a car stolen in my EAW work while colleagues have had their cars ending up in markets in the Ukraine, Bosnia or Albania. (Or intercepted at the border.) And the Yugo started a lot of conversations.

  2. To Ong Bob permalink
    January 30, 2012 3:02 pm

    First, your post has been docked 2 points for field cred. Land Cruiser is spelled Landcruiser (one word).
    Second, while a 1983 Corolla will get you some field cred, real field cred comes from driving an FJ40 Landcruiser. No, not the FJ that is sold back home today, I am talking about the original FJ40. A priceless time machine. The FJ40 was the short wheel base Landcruiser that got Toyota their original field cred in the NGO market. It has a 6 cylinder gas engine that can pass anything on the road except a fuel station. Extra field cred is given for driving a BJ40. It’s the same as the FJ40 except that is has a black smoke belching 4 cylinder diesel engine.
    While these are fun cars to drive, they are a mechanical nightmare and definitely not chick magnets.


  3. been there too permalink
    January 30, 2012 5:44 pm

    Best is to have a beater for the office (at least for around town), even if you could afford the Land Cruiser. Or better yet, just keep a beat-up taxi on retainer….

  4. Sofo permalink
    February 3, 2012 4:52 am

    If you are woman and drive a beater, you get double points for field cred and triple points for coolness; the effect will be universal in the EAW community.

    If you are man, you will impress young and idealistic NGO expat females, but only as a cool friend to have in certain situations in particular bars; the UN types will not even notice that you exist.

  5. Glenn permalink
    March 13, 2012 10:41 am

    a beater it is for sure. my 1979 datsun ply’s the streets of Nairobi with ease and simply not washing it, well that is as good as having armor plating. nobody wants to steal a dirty, old car.

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