I was reading Vagabond Journey today and he wrote an interesting series of articles on Mayan fishermen in the Rio Dulce of Guatemala. The last entry especially caught my attention. The fishermen make about $6-$8 a day fishing. The immediate response is that these people must live in complete poverty on such a paltry wage. [...]
I was reading Vagabond Journey today and he wrote an interesting series of articles on Mayan fishermen in the Rio Dulce of Guatemala. The last entry especially caught my attention. The fishermen make about $6-$8 a day fishing. The immediate response is that these people must live in complete poverty on such a paltry wage. They can’t truly live a decent life that they can enjoy. In reality, this is not true. On this wage one of the fishermen built himself a decent home, cares for five children, all of whom attend school, several fishing boats, all needed fishing gear and a small store. His family is well fed and happy. This fisherman is the real-life story of a joke I heard about 6 months ago.
Inside the small boat were several large yellow-fin tuna. The tourist complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The Mexican replied, “Only a little while.”
The tourist then asked, “Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?”
The Mexican said, “With this I have more than enough to support my family’s needs.”
The tourist then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life.”
The tourist scoffed, ” I can help you. You should spend more time fishing; and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat: With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor; eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You could leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles and eventually New York where you could run your ever-expanding enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”
The tourist replied, “15 to 20 years.”
“But what then?” asked the Mexican.
The tourist laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”
The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
This story resonates with me. Having a large income is not worth it if you can’t fully appreciate life and what truly matters. If you aren’t happy with what you currently have in life then a new car, a tv the size of a movie screen, or the newest cell phone won’t change your outlook. As I sold off my last few possessions and now own relatively few things I have been appreciating the smaller, simpler things in life. Sunny days and the freedom to walk down a main street of a town and people watch or read a book on a bench brings me just as much happiness as buying a new home theater system ever did.
On a more practical level this story reminds me that as I begin to travel it is good to know how much an average person in an area that I’m traveling in makes per day. Goods and services will be priced so that the population living in the area can afford them. If I know a typical person makes $8/day and I’m spending $5 on lunch then there is something wrong with the price I’m paying. I need to bargain a little harder or venture a little further outside the tourist bubble to see the area for what it truly is. I will always be paying a ‘Gringo tax’ on anything I buy but knowing the average daily wage gives me a strong starting point to bargain from.