Posted by: sean | April 1, 2008

All Tercels Lead To Monrovia

“Father, is it safe for the car to rattle like we’re taking enemy flak?”

“Father, should the windows fall down when we hit 50mph?”

“Father, why is the car leaking ‘green’?  Follow up: Have I had a tetanus shot?   I sliced my hand on the rusted door handle and my hand feels all tetanusy.”

At this point my father would usually exit the family press corps room and leave all questions to the family cat.  Man, that cat could spit non-answers like a true believer. 

These were the joys we experienced during the two decades that my dad owned a Toyota Tercel.  My dad is to cars as Native Americans are to the majestic buffalo – he made use of every part until the car could give no more.  My last memory of our faithful Tercel was in 1996 when it sat inoperable in our driveway in Brechin, Scotland.  I watched my father stand forlornly beside the Tercel.  As the Tercel was towed away, he shed a single tear not unlike the one that Native American shed in that commercial to remind us all to pick up garbage.  

And so, from time to time I would see a Tercel and think back on all the family adventures. 

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a Tercel.  Over the years their numbers have thinned. 

Not in Monrovia.

This is the Terceltopia. 

I first noticed a Tercel on the drive to town from the airport.  Oh, look, a Tercel!  My driver nodded with uneasy encouragement.  Then I discovered the truth: they are everywhere.  Every third car is a Tercel…and Monrovia is crawling with cars.  Teeming with them.  I could hurl my laptop out my window right now and probably hit four Tercels.

On Saturday I went around town with Pewee, our Liberian project manager, and a young American who was trying to buy a car that could handle the Liberian roads.  We stopped by several car lots and by god if they weren’t all full of Tercels! 

I became obsessed.  The number of Tercels here is not just happenstance.  There is obviously some huge chain of production.  Agents scouring the world for used Tercels, following leads, driving Tercels cross-country to distant ports where they are loaded in hulking containers onto gigantic steamers.  Imagine the competition!  The trafficking moguls drunk on the power they have accrued from a life of funneling Tercels towards Monrovia.  Entire teams dedicated to rolling back the odometers.  Out-of-work Toyota technicians who worked on the R&D for the Model-T(ercel) who have been flown in to offer their expertise, to revive their creations.  The logistics are mind-boggling. 

I became more obsessed.

On Sunday, I went to the beach and met up with Pewee.  I’m already starting to see the same people at various places – the expat community is small.  Walking along the beach, he pointed out the heads of various NGOs, government ministers, and big men from around town.  In return, I taught Pewee to skip stones.  He was a natural and I was soon embarrassed that I could only muster five or six skips while his skipped off over the horizon. 

On the drive back from the beach, I began an awkward conversation.

“Say, Pewee….there are a lot of Tercels here, huh?”


“Say, it’s kind of funny.  My family used to have a Tercel…”


“You know what?!!!”


“Oh, this is FANTASTIC! I have a great idea!”


“Let’s take pictures of all the Tercels!” 



I had been loooooonging to do this for about two days, planning on how I would start the conversation wherein I explained that I was about to snap an incredible number of pictures of Tercels.  Pewee slowed down whenever I shouted ‘Tercel!” and I snapped away.

It was cathartic.  I’m no longer obsessed with Tercels. All I needed was to document their prevalence.  The distraction is over, though I will still keep a look out for a rusted, flak-taking, green-leaking Tercel with no windows.  If I find that one, I might buy it and keep it parked in my driveway.   


 A Tercel sits in the driveway, silent, ready. 


  A startled Tercel darts for a sidestreet.


 A Tercel tries to hide behind a blurry Liberian.


  1. So glad you obeyed my order to add to your blog. You’re hilarious.

  2. Quick, everyone start looking for Previa’s and buy them all up!

  3. if this is really dad commenting on this….you need to stop the jokes…..and if it is andrew….you need to get a life

  4. I work with your Mom and I love your blog!! Enjoy your stay and don’t get run over by any Tercels!!!!

  5. This is hilarious! I think we have a picture somewhere of the Tercel being towed away…it was quite the sight!

  6. love it! (you, the post, and your family’s comments!) Wish my family knew how to use the internet.

    keep ’em coming!! a

  7. Sean. I drove a Tercel in high school. Need I say more.

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