Work is Part of Life, Everywhere
One month in Itacimirim. Never heard of it. But we found this volunteering host, Stefano, and his father was owning a “Pousada“, meaning a Guesthouse. It was much more than just a B&B. In Brazil, Pousadas can actually be like small resorts. Some have large pools, all-inclusive meals, and other extra amenities.
Stefano is half Brazilian, half German. Having this mixed cultural heritage, his year looks like this: 6 months in Europe and then 6 months of sweet tides and surf on the Atlantic coast. Just that now Stefano was also in charge of turning around the family business, as it was falling short in the last years. Other Pousadas were developing a much stronger client relationship, and basically, it needed a strategy of repositioning the business.
For us, as product designers, it was a match in terms of professional expertise. But, human elements are still difficult to navigate. Even if we developed a great relationship with Stefano, that was not the case when it came to his father. He wasn’t really on board with the new directions of his son, and even more with the volunteering program.
- Maya exploring the Pousada, and Roxana working right next to Stefano
What did we actually do?
Nonetheless, the first week for us was all about understanding the place and going into a design strategy, specifically developed to give fast results, called a Design Sprint. Adapted to the situation, the design sprint we run for “Pousada Jardim Cambui” gave both parties an insight into their actionable steps.
This was divided into two major segments – immediate actions and future experiments, all based on the hypothesis we developed together after analyzing context, competition, customer segments and so on. The immediate actions were things like: create a unified brand, the logo and the brand book – which Roxana crafted in a beautiful result. Airbnb positioning, improve presence on Booking, Facebook social development, under the same umbrella of repositioning, and Instagram presence. The future experiments were business repositioning ideas that come under confidentiality terms, so revealing them here wouldn’t be fit.
- on the left you can see the back side of the Pousada garden, with a hammock to just relax. And then spot the visual identity Roxana created, above a screen capture of the website they built after us leaving, still based on that identity and even using a photo from a photo shooting with all 3 of us
It was a complicated month in terms of work, with many ups and downs on our part, as the emotional and psychological warfare was much more battled on other fronts by Sergio, the father. Stefano tried to make it as easy as possible, but he was also fluctuating between – is it all worth it? Does he really want this turmoil? Time will tell in that regard.
We really admired Stefano’s openness in regards to our work and the trust he put in us, offering a lot of flexibility on our work schedule – us having Maya as our travel companion. Our volunteering was much more seen as project coordination and collaboration than an hourly based thing, as other volunteers were having, doing things such as cleaning or reception. As Maya was just 9 months, it was not that difficult to work or brainstorm with her near, even though at times this became a hustle and sometimes we also needed to work at night.
- above are two shots from our marketing part of the work: photo shooting for social media ads and not only
Another challenging cultural thing to embrace here at the Pousada, as our first contact with Bahia and Brazil, was the perception of the employees on our work. It was a delicate topic that they weren’t perceiving our work time, standing in front of the laptop, as something “for real”, even more so when it came to Roxana, which is a woman. The culture here is still impregnated with a lot of patriarchate, and from the Afro American side even more so. Eventually, to reduce the frustration and the nonverbal friction established between black workers and white volunteers, Roxana showed them the visual results of her work on the computer, and this helped a bit, them responding that it was “legal” (meaning cool).
- just some shots captured in our room or near it – you can even see the beautiful rainbow light on Maya’s body that appeared every day around the same hour, when sun was reflecting the glass coffee table in the room
For us, the amenities offered in exchange for our working time were really neat, as we got the deluxe room of the Pousada, during the first three weeks we were there. And that gave us the comfort to really enjoy the time spent there. The only pain was not being allowed to swim in the pool, because we were actually working for the Pousada, and it wouldn’t have looked right – not for the employers, nor for the guests. The Pousada itself is a nicely designed garden, with a lot of palm trees, gorgeous flowers, narrow pathways, and jumping macaques. Part of the design work delivered was even creating an illustrated map of that whole area, for improving guests’ orientation.
- A few of Maya’s toys and activities in our Pousada time. We lost Omiduț in Brazil (the first natural rubber toy she got, from our very dear Andra) – so it is good he got a photoshoot on the matching blanket. Panda, her favourite finger puppet is still traveling with us today, in Asia.
The place was located at about 10 minutes walk to the beach, and so we were having an afternoon walk to the ocean almost every day. The beach of Itacimirm was mostly deserted until the end of the year. People were just not getting there, so it gave you the feel of a solitary place, really beautiful for us, but sometimes a bit lonely.
The days were relaxing, spending time on the white sand just the three of us, from time to time getting to the surf beach and cooking dinners with the other volunteers.
- there are so many beautiful moments we captured that month, we just couldn’t make up our mind on just a few photos to share with you – so here are quite many of them
Surfing yet again
What really brought me here was the promise of surfing by Stefano. And we did catch some good days of surfing. And some rough ones. I’m still a novice and it probably will take me a while to get to the wave curving I see most people do. But I will get there, just need to create the right conditions for this to happen. That means, having the right board, the right teachers, and the right waves. And from there, progress to more and more.
Unfortunately, Itacimirim was a pretty isolated place, and besides the blessing of being at the ocean and a lonely beach every day, there was not much to do. The surf spot was conditioned also by when Stefano was in the mood for it. So personally, I felt a bit trapped in terms of not achieving my other goals here, meaning learning Brazilian JiuJitsu and Capoeira. Nonetheless, we enjoyed plenty the sunniest December of our lives, so far. And even when the rain felt on our shoulders, it was a pleasure to the senses.
The Volunteering Programme
The volunteering program in itself is not only about the relationship you create with the host, but also with the other volunteers. And moreover, the passing of the relationship. It’s because you meet people for a short amount of time, really strong feelings can be felt for other people – be those savorous or just a plain dislike. We were really fortunate that for our first 10 days, Nana and Luisa, a very young German couple, were our volunteer comrades.
Both adventurous and sensitive at the same time, we really enjoyed their passion for food and life. We bonded really well with both of them, over the volunteer dinners that became the tradition of the Pousada, and we look forward to seeing them again in Europe. Other volunteers, we met later in the month, like Helen, Joao, Constantza or Monika, were nice to hang out with as well, and they also helped us a lot with getting around details.
- on the left, Luisa posing as a sand mermaid, protected by Nana
- on the right, up – a beautiful dinning moment we shared together, on the amazing cooking skills both Nana and Luisa have
- on the right, down – an illustration by Roxana surprising Nana in front of a huge frog in the Pousada garden – that moment was one good laughter
The last week of our volunteering coincided with the passing of the year, starting Christmas Eve. Things changed at the Pousada for that last week. Stefano and his father Sergio, left for Europe, to spend the holidays in Germany. In their place, Andre – the general manager and Andre – the young family friend remained in charge. All the other volunteers left towards greener fields. And others took their place.
- tiny bits of Christmas, the way we got to celebrate it – either that being a toy on a restaurant’s table, next to unicorn Maya, or our miniature led Christmas tree with wooden decorations
Felipe and his girlfriend were a Brazilian couple, with a lot of experience in hospitality, that lived in Italy for most of the year, and now they were looking for a quiet place to stay. We all got along towards the passing of time, and more importantly, everyone loved being around Maya. And she was really into the social life of the Pousada, even if sometimes the interactions needed a bit of a push towards her direction.
The holidays passed quickly, and it was really interesting the transformation that took place over the solitary place of Itacimirim. It was filled with cars and people, all most probably from Salvador. A bit of a crazy situation, as we were so used to the deserted pathways and beaches. The fun part was that Maya started to enjoy the ocean and taking baths in the little pools the nearby reef was forming.
The Surrounding Nature
In all our Itacimirim time, even though the place was overall transformed by humans, there were quite a few local fauna representatives that we met. The macaques were always there during the day, surprisingly displaying themselves jumping from one branch to the other. During night time, ginormous frogs were appearing – funny story how once a new volunteered a big frog was a cute little monkey. These frogs were actually not just jumping, but also walking on their back feet. Then, we also had an isolated encounter with a beautiful little owl and a splendid immense lizard, most probably an iguana, a few meters long – this if you also included the tail. The first tarantula spotted in the kitchen area was just delightful for Roxana, who loves to see as close as possible all the creatures. Not so nice though when we changed our fancy deluxe room to a tiny new-built hut with an open ceiling, and we found 2 baby tarantulas around our bed in the morning.
- on the top see a dead turtle’s shell and some bald eagles watching what used to be their prey – only about 8 out of 100 turtles reach adulthood in Brazil
- below see, from left to right, a very long feet starfish under rocks, a tarantula from our kitchen and a macaque right next to the moon on a clear day sky
- just some captures of sweet moments around the lagoon in Itacimirim
One natural event worth mentioning, just for complete indexing of our Itacimirim travel memories, was when the lagoon nearby was on fire. Those moments of us seeing the sky red and feeling the smoke in the air coming from afar felt so long. Long enough to pack our passports and a few diapers, yet short enough to fell panic running through our veins. I put some long sleeves on, nothing synthetic, and just run towards the fire with Stefano, to see how serious it was. The cause of the fire was natural and was something happening in the area, during very hot and dry days. But that tension we felt was something that we will always remember.
The Last Hurrah
Our hot December month in not-so-quiet-anymore Itacimirim got to an end. Stefano came back right after the New Year, on the 3rd. That was also the day we were leaving. But not before we had a long chat about our work, about what would be best for the next steps and reciprocal feedback. After that, just before he was heading to the surf beach, he gave us a ride to the main bus station.
- the little local van back to Salvador, packed with locals that became Maya’s friends in less than half an hour – above are our last photos
Again, on the edge of the road, all 3 of us, ready to discover a new world.
Later on, while checking out the Pousada’s website, it was nice to discover that all the looks were adjusted to Roxana’s proposed rebranding. And even more so, that the image standing on the homepage was from a photoshoot of The Wanderers of Earth at Pousada Jardim Cambui.
post written by Vlad