Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Notes from the Field: Rabat!

Very excited to share with you today our very first Notes from the Field of 2013 - Natalia, co-founder of the uber-chic children's online boutique, Culture Baby, is our woman on the ground in Rabat and generally loving it.  On the lookout for adventure and a good tagine, read on to see a little slice of daily life in Morocco!


Diplo-mat or Diplo-spouse (or other)?
Pseudo-diplo-spouse.  My husband is a Foreign Area Officer with the US Marine Corps.

Current Post: Rabat, Morocco.  We were originally slated for Tunis but were there 3 weeks before an evacuation was ordered on September 14th after the attack on the embassy.  

Three words to describe your current post: 
Messy, Exhilarating, Pleasant.

Best thing about Rabat: 
The food (tagines, spices, sweet cakes and biscuits); the shopping (handmade furnishings, decorative items); the opportunities for travel (both within and without the country); and the affordable help...I’ve never had a housekeeper before and I love her!

You have visitors in town for the weekend in Rabat, what does the weekend look like? 
We head to the Place des Consuls in the morning, the gateway to the local medina and shop for tchochkes, rugs or tea sets.  Then across the road to the walled Oudayas and Kasbah, the old fortress overlooking the harbor for a walk that concludes with a hot mint tea on the balcony, accompanied by almond cakes.  Then a quick walk around the roman ruins of the Chellah followed by a lunch of lamb tagine with aubergines or prunes.  
In the afternoon, we head back to our place by the sea for a relax and in the evening, we walk down to the Cafe Miramar and watch the waves crash with a Moroccan Rosé and some seafood.  Sunday we do brunch at French cafe Paul and we hit the mausoleum of the previous king and the famous Tour Hassan, minaret of a never completed mosque.  We might pop over to Salé, a town across the river if shopping for pottery or mosaic tabletops is of interest.  Dinner in the shaded and flowered courtyard of my favorite hotel, the Villa Mandarin.
If you’re in Rabat, you must try: 
·         P'tet Beur: our favorite restaurant for traditional Moroccan cuisine - everything from the soup to the sweets!
·         Ordering custom furniture or rugs...exactly the way you want them
·         Traveling on Morocco's surprisingly modern highways...so many out of the way destinations will open up to you
·         And...if you aren't squeamish or shy, a Hammam spa treatment involving steam and an enthusiastic scrubbing down of your whole body with a rough, exfoliating mitt by a generally buxom practitioner

Most difficult about living in Rabat is the... Traffic...the pliable relationship drivers seems to have with turn lanes, right of way or speed limits.  Add donkey carts and you have a real white knuckler every morning.  I hear Casablanca is worse and I don’t dare imagine.

Biggest adventure at post? I don’t think we’ve had it yet!  Always on the look out though!

When did you realize you were far from home? Watching a Moroccan family celebrate the traditional Eid al Adha festivites by slaughtering a ram in the kitchen courtyard.  I just tried to imagine my Dad doing the turkey the same way at Thanksgiving and couldn’t quite picture it!

What’s the most important thing about re-creating your home at post? Having our own pictures and books.  I know they are some of the heaviest or most breakable items but I just don’t feel like I can personalize our space without them.  

Three things you can’t live without at post? 
·         My teapot and teabags (must have my morning tea, British tetley or PG tips if I can manage it)
·         My mac book pro and a reliable internet connection.  I run an e-commerce business so I need to be connected at all times!
·         A reliable babysitter...some of the best discoveries are for two!

One thing you thought you couldn’t live without but have had to?  
Organic product.  I was always so careful about shopping organic.  But here it really isn't an option.  Shopping at veggie souks means you can see your produce came from small farms but they don't really give you any information about how their meats or vegetables are raised.

What’s your daily uniform? 
Merrill or other casual flats, skinny jeans, button down shirt, and a long necklace or scarf with my hair in a banana clip.

You’re having guests over on Saturday night, what’s on the menu?  If it’s casual a spanish stew with a side salad and a fresh baguette.  If it’s formal I’ll do a beef wellington...a beef tenderloin topped with shallots and mushrooms and wrapped in a puff pastry.  Its actually fairly easy if a little time consuming.  And always copious amounts of wine!

Three things always in your refrigerator? 
·         Fresh fruit. I have to make an effort to eat it first thing in the morning or I forget altogether.
·         A bit of dark chocolate for cravings.  (I put everything sweet in the fridge at the moment since I am in all out war with the Moroccan brigade of ants who like to invade my kitchen).
·         A White wine.

Three things always in your handbag?
·         Baby sunblock for me and the baby.
·         Baby wipes....handy with or without the baby.
·         My Kate Spade sunglasses.  Because I have a love for them that borders on the obsessive.  Plus the sun here is intensive.  Plus I sometimes forget my mascara. Plus they are good for hiding my people watching that turns into staring.  You get the picture...don’t leave the house without them!


Dream post for next assignment? Why?  We are likely headed to DC next which we are pleased about.  We love the city and it feels like the closest thing we have to a home.  We would love to live in Japan again.  We did 2.5 years in Okinawa and loved it.  If my husband’s career takes us to the Middle East or North Africa again as it promises to, we’ve heard wonderful things about Muscat in Oman.

One thing you wished someone had told you before arriving?  That the embassy provided converters...I brought no appliances.  And that I would be using my French more than I have in years and the Arabic phrases I studied not at all.  Moroccans don’t actually speak Arabic, they speak Darija, a local dialect.  

Parting thoughts? One of the biggest challenges here at post has been in continuing to run my own small business.  I had to check the bureaucratic boxes with the Embassy and clear my business operations with the HR department.  But it was also difficult to be working outside of my previous support network and 5-8 hours ahead of various contacts.  I built my business to be flexible with my husband’s schedule but it has still been an adjustment.

Check out more of Natalia's adventures here!


  1. oh wow.. have very interesting and exciting.

  2. Fantastic Notes From The Field post - how fascinating! And love love love her chic CultureBaby business. My little girl has this dress and it is absolutely beautiful. Now I must have the tea party dress too! http://www.culturebaby.com/collections/new-this-month/products/english-christmas-dress
    Great post, thanks!!

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Thanks for sharing!

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