I got back from Morocco about two weeks ago. In total I spent over two months there with most of that time in Casablanca.
Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco and the commercial center for the country. It’s definitely not as interesting a city as Marrakech or Fez, but it has a quiet charm about it. I’ll always hold it near my heart because of the time I spent there.
And the city will also be special to me because of a fisherman I met there. The time I spent with him taught me a lot about life, travel and what it means to be poor.
The Moroccan Fisherman
One day I was wandering around a long stretch of shoreline called the Corniche which is the rich part of the city. Along the way I passed by a slum. Just beyond the slum were remains of a building I mistook for a local tomb to a Muslim poet. I decided to check it out, but the area seemed sketchy so I kept alert for danger.
As I got closer to those ruins, I was approached by a local who started talking to me in French. I’m not fluent in French, but I know enough to have basic conversations.
He asked me what I was looking for, but I was hesitant to say. I didn’t know who he was and why he was talking to me so my first concern was about safety.
I told him in as good of French as I could that I was looking for the tomb. He understood and pointed down the shoreline. The tomb I thought was there was actually several beeches away – way too far for me to walk to.
Our conversation continued as he showed me around. He explained to me what the ruins really were – remnants of forts used during WWII. As we talked, he told me about himself.
He was a poor fisherman who lived in the slums nearby. His parents had been dead for years and he didn’t really have much of any other family. In turn I told him about my family and that I was a teacher at the American school in Casablanca.
My French must really be improving since he understood me well.
As we talked, I realized he wasn’t a threat. He did ask for some money though which I had expected to happen. I decided to give him 100 dirhams (about $10) and he was very thankful.
To the Local Market
We walked to a local market and he showed me around. It was one of those markets only locals know about which made the experience unique and authentic – nothing was done for tourists.
At a food vendor, he ordered two fish falafel sandwiches which tasted amazing. Then we ate a couple bowls of yogurt.
This is when I had my first realization about him. He was starved. Too poor to afford food on a regular basis, he was eating a lot now because he could finally afford it due to the money I had given him.
This realization put a lot of my life into perspective. I don’t remember a time when I ever had to worry about paying for my next meal. Quite possibly, I’ll never know that feeling. Seeing him satisfy his immense hunger was humbling.
We walked around for a while, but I wanted to know more about him. So I asked if he would show me his home. By this point, we had become friends and I felt very safe. He was fine with that and we walked through the slums over to his house.
The slums where he lived weren’t too bad; I’ve seen a lot worse in my travels. There were boys playing soccer and a run-down truck on the side of the road that looked as if it had been on fire at one point.
Walking to His Home
His home was extremely small. A long hallway led to two rooms. The first room looked as if it was used as a bedroom/living room. The other was beyond that, but seemed to be used primarily for storage – boxes and garbage thrown about. And that was all he had.
There was no refrigerator or TV. No washer/dryer or any other basic household appliances. The only food in the house was an apple and orange sitting on the table by his bed.
He didn’t own much of anything. Life as a fisherman is hard. He would get hired to go out on a boat for three days at a time to catch fish, but only earn about 300 dirhams (about $35) at the end.
From what I gathered about his situation, it seems as if he had to scrape as much as he could to get by. I thought back to all the things I’ve owned and about the fun unnecessary things I can spend my money on. He spends his money on survival – food, lodging, clothes.
This gave me a second realization. It’s easy to think about all the things you don’t have. It’s easy to think about how much more you could have and why it’s unfair that you don’t have them. I try not to think those things anymore.
You can look at people like him from a distance and pretend to understand what they are going through. It’s another thing to spend time with them and get to know more about their lives and living conditions. I will never fully know what his day-to-day life is like, but I feel as if I’m a little bit closer to understanding.
I talk a lot about the benefits of travel on this blog. It can be hard to explain to people exactly what makes travel so rewarding. But one thing for me is certain – seeing another person’s difficult way of living so up close contrasted with my own way of living and made me realize just what’s so important in life – and what isn’t.
photo credit: Milamber’s portfolio