A French doctor is embarking on the 6,000-mile trip to promote a better image of Pakistan. ‘It’s not all about terrorism,’ he says.
Declan Walsh, The Guardian, Monday 9 November 2009
Low-key is good in Islamabad these days, where the threat of Taliban suicide bombings has filled Pakistan’s capital with checkposts, blast walls and a queasy air of anxiety. But one proudly conspicuous car rolled through the streets last week – a 25-year-old Volkswagen Beetle, painted in an explosion of trippy colours. At the wheel was a defiant doctor, Vincent Loos, headed for Paris.
“My dream was to return by road,” says the 39-year-old Frenchman, who has just finished three years’ work at a local hospital. Doctors without borders indeed – or perhaps doctors without sense. Only six months ago his ride was a dust-smeared wreck, collapsed at the bottom of an Islamabad street waiting for a final trip to the scrapyard. Loos, an intensive care specialist, restored the car to full health, then hired an artist to paint in the local style known as “truck art”.
Now the “Foxy Shahzadi”, or Beetle Princess, is the most distinctive car from Lahore to Lyons. The body is covered in a psychedelic array of flowers, waterfalls and the faces of famous Pakistanis. The idea behind the 6,000-mile trip is to promote the “soft side” of Pakistan. “We want to show the world it’s not just about terrorism,” says Loos.
Travelling by Foxy, as Beetles are affectionately known in Pakistan, Loos is paying homage to a local motoring cult. Dozens of well-maintained Beetles ply the streets. (Mine, in a cool grey, is Betsy, a proud 1967 model.)
The Beetle came to Pakistan in the 1950s with army officers and bureaucrats returning from postings abroad. The appeal has endured – Mubashir Hasan, a finance minister from the 1970s, still drives his around Lahore. Romano Karim of Islamabad’s VW club estimates about 500 “Foxies” travel Pakistan’s roads. “Cute, quirky, cheap spare parts – it’s the ideal car,” he says.
The French doctor’s Foxy should reach Paris in about two weeks. His team is equipped with an ample stock of spare parts and a line of Urdu poetry inscribed on the bonnet: “Every mother’s prayer is a breeze from paradise.”