Mato Grosso do Sul – The Nebraska of Brazil

The last stop on our trip across Asia and Brazil was Campo Grande, a smallish city in the western Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul. Mato Grosso do Sul borders both Bolivia and Paraguay and is one of Brazil’s agricultural hubs. Much like Nebraska, Mato Grosso do Sul’s main economic drivers are corn, soy and cattle. While most tourists make their way to Mato Grosso do Sul to enjoy the natural beauty of the Patanal, and particularly the city of Bonito, our trip took us to the state capital and university town of Campo Grande.

We found ourselves in Campo Grande because C was invited to a conference on computer vision at the Universidade Católica Dom Bosco (UCDB). UNL has a growing partnership with UCDB and other universities in and around Campo Grande, and we were excited to continue to develop that relationship. After a productive week and the overwhelming generosity of our new colleagues and friends, we are even more enthusiastic.

One of the highlights of our stay was the Museu das Culturas Dom Bosco and the nearby Parque das Nações Indigenas. The museum is modest in scope but deep in meaning and nuance. Our hosts had arranged a special tour with two of the curators, and we learned so much from them and from the exhibits about the many indigenous groups in the Patanal and surrounding regions. The museum took tremendous care in creating the exhibits in such a way that the lighting and presentation of the materials reflect their role in indigenous life. In addition to the cultural history exhibitions, the museum also houses a natural history exhibit of fossils and insects and a collection of taxidermy animals from the Patanal. This included an anaconda, whose sheer enormity haunts me still. And I’m not even afraid of snakes. (Just hummingbirds, for the record. They’re too big for insects, too small for birds.)

The museum sits adjacent to the Parque das Nações Indigenas, which is a sprawling park with running and biking trails, playgrounds and a small lake. Oh, and capybaras. So many capybaras. For those of you who might not know who/what a capybara is, let me introduce you. The capybara is the world’s largest rodent, weighing in at about 110 lbs. They’re basically enormous hamsters that happen to be very social and very docile. When your city park is home to hundreds of them, this is a good thing!

It wasn’t all giant hamsters and taxidermy anacondas in Campo Grande. We did some serious work, too. I had the honor of visiting the Mato Grosso do Sul Public Prosecutor’s Office and meeting some of the team there. I was so inspired by their work fighting for the rights of women,

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This is a poster denouncing domestic violence/violence against women and reflects some of the work being done by the public prosecutor’s office.  Not-so-coincidentally, the story of Brazil’s law about violence against women is the opening anecdote to my 2014 book. 

children, indigenous communities and many other minority groups. They shared best practices from their public outreach campaigns, as well as some insights into how they use and integrate domestic and international human rights law. For those interested in human rights ombudspersons and public law, Brazil’s experience is worth noting. The Public Prosecutors play at least three roles: public defenders; human rights ombuds/NHRIs; and outreach/education coordinators. Needless to say, they are doing important work in difficult conditions.

I visited the Public Prosecutor’s Office the day after the election in U.S. It was perfect timing, as the people that I met there reminded me that the fight for justice and equality is never, ever easy but that it is always a fight worth fighting.

Heading Home

As our days in Campo Grande passed, we started to grapple with the fact that we were going home soon. C and the girls were ready. I was ready, too, in a way. Ready to be in our home with our beloved dog, ready to be around friends and family. But, if someone had offered us another week or month on the road, I probably would have taken it. It’s quite nice to live in a suspended reality, to be constantly moving around and learning new things and seeing new places, all while spending time with the people who matter most to you.

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