What a Moroccan Fisherman Taught Me About Life


Sunset on Casablanca's cornice, Morocco

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

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  1. Very nice post. I had a similar experience in India.

  2. Really glad you wrote this, Steve. I don’t think enough travelers think about the lives of the people in the places they visit, especially the poor or struggling ones. And if they do, they may not be inclined to get too close, even if for a short while.

    I think it’s cool that you spent time with the fisherman and got to see what his life is like. Great that you learned something from the experience and benefited. I’m sure that he did, too–and not just because of the money and the meal.

    Glad to be checking out your blog again–it’s been a while. Still awesome! :)

    • Yeah, it’s definitely a learning experience for both of us. He had a lot of questions for me and about my life in the US which I hopefully answered well enough in French.

      Yeah, I think more travelers should get out into the lives of the people who live in the places they travel. And not necessarily only poor people. I spent a lot of time with extremely rich people in Morocco too. Went to one home that was far more extravagant than most places I’ve seen in the US. That was a learning experience too.

  3. Hi Steve – I love that you placed your trust in a local and had a great and informative experience as a result. Looking forward to hearing more of your stories from your time in Morocco!

  4. I’ve done a fair amount of travel…not like yours however. It really boils down to embracing the experiences. I’ve been poor, lived in slums in Mexico. I’ve meet some interesting people….each one a different and wonderful experience. A connection like this only serves to put life on the right perspective. Grateful that’s you shared it!!

    • It definitely is about embracing the experience. When I was out walking, I wanted to find something adventurous and I found it. Things did get put into perspective so it was worth it.

  5. Steve,

    What an amazing post! I forget that people do still live to survive in our world. And every time I am reminded it humbles me.

    Here in the US we are so spoiled. Our “poor” still have TV’s, cell phones and cars. That is not poor but I guess in the US it is. I am not actually saying it is bad to have these things, it is just sad that we forget how fortunate we really are. A little perspective goes a long way.

    Thank you for this story. I tend to forget how lucky I really am.


    • It is humbling to get that different perspective. When you have so much and see someone with so little, it makes you realize just how lucky you are.

  6. Hey Steve,

    I’ve had experiences a little like this one – the most vivid and similar being something very similar to your story actually when I visited Thailand – I also visited a family home there which was basically a single room with similar very basic amenities.

    That too made me question not so much what we consider the priorities in life but more all of the things we spend time doing and probably take for granted which are excess or unnecessary in the end anyway. e.g. cinema.

    I really love nature and when you get back to basics, the one thing these countries do have is some amazing places to spend your time – throw all of that into the mix and you can really start to get quite philosophical between culture, priorities, economics and simply how we choose to spend our time – I’d say there are a lot of people wasting it…

    Allie’s got an interesting point about poor people in western cultures such as the US who still have TVs etc but may still be classed as poor – it’s all relative anyway, but I know plenty of people who think they’re ‘poor’ but they could easily not be – they waste money like crazy that your Moroccan friend would consider absolute riches – maybe there are two types of poor – people who are ‘genuinely’ poor and people who will always be poor due to their mindset…

    I’d better stop now this could become a very long comment…

    nice post.

    • Hey Allan,

      It’s interesting the priorities we take. We do spend a lot of time on excess and unnecessary things although we might not think of them that way. Movies are a great example. My fisherman friend might not have ever gone to one. His entertainment seems to be going to a cafe, ordering tea and watching the TV there. We have so many more options than he does.

      I’ve known some poor people in the US who have TVs and cell phones too. But I suppose if you put them next to the fisherman they might not seem so poor. It can all seem relative to what’s around you sometimes.

  7. Hi Steve,

    First off, I really enjoy your blog. This post in particular was an interesting read, but going through it and the comments left by other readers, I couldn’t help but wonder why poverty seems to be more meaningful and ‘visible’ to travelers seeing/experiencing it in other parts of the world than it is in their own countries.

    As someone who has always lived in the Middle East, one of the things that take me aback about developed countries in the West is the incomprehensible rate of homelessness, which is almost unheard of in my own country despite the spread of poverty pockets in many of our rural areas. If Wester media is anything to go by, common attitudes towads the homesless is indifference, wariness and distrust. It seems that people would be less likely to take a moment to interact with underprivileged strangers who walk up to them in their own countries than they would when traveling.

    My question is, why are travelers more likely to be influenced by poverty and interact with the poor in other countries than they are in their own?

    • That is a really good question. And I think I might have a good answer for you. I know a lot of travelers who make it a point to interact with the local people in countries they’re traveling in. When they’re not traveling and are going about their day at home, they seem to lose that mindset.

      Additionally, it seems meeting people in other countries is easier than at home. In Morocco I was approached regularly. People would go out of their way to introduce themselves to me. For instance, one very nice woman on a train invited my wife and I to stay with her in her home for a few days. That’s something I’ve never had offered to me in the US. It was very unfortunate that we couldn’t; I would have loved to have that experience.

      In contrast, getting to know people in the US whether poor or not is harder. No one comes up to me and introduces themselves to me out of nowhere. I’d have to work really hard to have a similar experience here.

  8. Steve,
    I want more stories like this with little lessons on the benefit of traveling.

    This is a good reminder that we should appreciate the things we have. Truly humbling.

  9. Welcome back, Steve. I have always enjoyed reading travel stories. And yours has certainly been a good read! It is great that you managed to learn something and able to share with us all.

    I agree. Often, we don’t appreciate what we have. The tendency is to focus on the lack and complain. Seeing others in poverty sure put things into perspective.

    • Yeah, it’s good to appreciate what we have. I’ve been one of those people who complain about what I don’t have, but in the grand scheme of things, I have a lot. I can always look back on this fisherman whenever I need to get that perspective again.

  10. I agree, we as westerners are quite the consumers, we’re always worrying about not having the next new gadget or we’re chasing a bigger house or a better car. We forget that there are those out there who have very little, its definitely a humbling thought.

  11. How completely humbling. Thanks for the great story and the lesson to go along.

  12. What a beautiful post! I especially like the ending, “what’s so important in life – and what isn’t.”

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