What Goes Around
By Jheri St. James
task must be to free ourselves...by widening our circle
of compassion to embrace all living creatures and
the whole of nature and its beauty.” Albert
along the way, “Many Hands; Many Soils—Common
Ground” emerged as a motto for the Common Ground
191 project, becoming the line at the bottom of our letterhead
that went to the U.S. embassies in the countries from which
we still required soil. In the case of the Belize collection,
the motto really fit.
The first person we talked to about Belize
was Betty Marcharro, our friend and soil collector from Guatemala,
who offered to help us by contacting a friend in her neighboring
country. The empty carton was sent out in June to Betty, but
got lost somewhere along the way. She did finally get the
package, but by then was in Honduras, and wondered if we needed
that country’s soil. We did, so Gary sent another carton
meantime, we were sending “Many Hands; Many Soils-Common
Ground” query letters to about 80 U.S. embassies in
foreign countries, including Belize, and received a reply
from Mr. Efrain Novelo in the embassy there. He was willing
to collect the soil from Belize. By then, however, we had
made contact with Ramiro Najera Chinchilla, Betty’s
friend, who actually did get the soil from Belize.
soil came from Centro Alfan, Belmopan, “a very rich
place.“ Here’s where they produce a great part
of Belize’s produce. It’s a small town whose main
activity is agriculture.
is the process that must be followed every single time a country’s
soil is needed—192 times to complete the project. And
it’s not free: each shipment of the empty box might
cost as much as $150, and then the costs for the return shipment
are even more. Gary Simpson, project founder, has a huge Excel
file listing all the monies spent on shipping, comparison
charts of different companies and dates of bills of lading.
The journal is the story of the country and the soil, but
the shipping documentation is critical because it proves that
we did not just pick up some dirt in Laguna Beach and put
it in a jar or a box and call it soil from “Belize.”
Thank you, everyone, for your good-hearted
willingness and participation.
helping others, we shall help ourselves, for whatever
good we give out completes the circle and comes back
- Flora Edwards
formerly known as British Honduras, is a small nation on the
eastern coast of Central America on the Caribbean Sea, bordered
by Mexico to the northwest and Guatemala to the west and south.
The only English-speaking country in Central America, Belize
was a British colony for more than a century, becoming an
independent nation in 1981, and considers itself to be culturally
both Caribbean and Central American. Belize is the smallest
(in terms of population) non-island sovereign state in the
Hattie inflicted significant damage upon Belize in 1961. The
government decided that a coastal capital city lying below
sea level was too risky. Over several years, the British colonial
government designed a new capital, Belmopan, at the exact
geographic center of the country, and in 1970 began slowly
moving the governing offices there. The name Belize
was adopted in 1973. As the United Kingdom’s last colony
on the American mainland, George Price led the country to
full independence on 21 September 1981, after delays caused
by territorial disputes with neighboring Guatemala, which
did not formally recognize the country until 1991. Throughout
Belize’s history, Guatemala has claimed ownership of
all or part of the territory. As of 2006, the border dispute
with Guatemala remains unresolved and quite contentious, requiring
mediation by the UK, CARICOM heads of government, the Organization
of American States and on one occasion, the U.S.
is considered as having a relatively young and growing population.
Its birth rate is among the highest in the world, and there
are indications that this trend will continue for the foreseeable
future. Nearly 40% of Belizeans are under 15; a similar number
are between the ages of 15 and 65.
was the site of several Mayan city states until their decline
at the end of the first millennium A.D. Xunantunich is an
archeological site, from the Maya civilization which is still
north of Belize consists mostly of flat, swampy coastal plains,
in places heavily forested. The south contains the low maintain
range of the Maya Mountains, whose Victoria Peak is the highest
point in Belize. Located between the Hondo and Sarstoon Rivers,
the Belize River flows down in the center of the country.
The Caribbean coast is lined with a coral reef and some 450
islets and islands known locally as cayes, pronounced
“keys”. Belize is home to the longest barrier
reef in the western hemisphere, stemming approximately 200
miles and the second longest in the world after the Great
Barrier Reef. Three of the four coral atolls in the Western
Hemisphere are also located off the coast of Belize. Belize
is the only Central American country without a coastline on
the Pacific Ocean. It is along this Caribbean coastline that
a very important Belizean activity and landmark are to be
is the Manatee Conservation Program, a project designed to
aid in the protection of the endangered Antillean manatee
(Trichechus manatus manatus), through a combination
of scientific research, professional training and public education.
This project was begun in 1997. As a result of coastal development
and other harmful changes to the environment, the manatee
is highly endangered. The U.S. Geological Survey has assisted
Wildlife Trust, Wildlife Conservation Society, Belize Coastal
Zone Management Authority and Institute, and Belizean Forestry,
Fisheries and Agriculture Department biologists with the capture,
assessment, radio tagging and monitoring of manatees off Drowned
Keys in the South Lagoon, Belize. Currently, 77 manatees have
been captured in Belizean waters and many have carried radio
is the amazing Blue Hole, first made famous by Jacques Cousteau
in 1972, when he took his famous research vessel, the Calypso,
into Lighthouse Atoll and traced a route that is used by dive
boats to this day. It is often mentioned that Philippe Cousteau,
his son, was killed during this trip. However, that happened
while he was operating a light-wing plane in Lisbon, Portugal
a few years later.
Approximately 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Belize City,
the almost perfectly circular Blue Hole is more than 1,000
feet (305 meters) across and some 400 feet (123 meters) deep.
The hole is the opening to what was a dry cave system during
the Ice Age. When the ice melted and the sea level rose, the
caves were flooded, creating what is now a magnet for intrepid
divers. Today the Blue Hole is famed for its sponges, barracuda,
corals, angelfish—and a school of sharks often seen
patrolling the hole’s edge.
Hole is a geological oddity, so much so that in March of 1996
it was declared a World Heritage Site and later declared a
National Monument in February of 1999. The Hole used to be,
once upon a time millions of years ago, a complex system of
dry caves. Scientists believe there were a couple of peculiar
events that made the Hole what it is today. First, an earthquake
of such force it might have tilted Lighthouse Reef, the area
where the Blue Hole is located, to an angle of 12 degrees.
Secondly, the melting of the last Ice Age flooded the cave
system. Eventually, the porous limestone ceilings of the caves
became incapable of supporting their own weight and they crumbled,
leaving an almost perfectly round and deep hole in the process.
Hole is almost 1000 feet in diameter and over 450 feet deep.
Its walls are almost perfectly vertical and fairly smooth,
except at a few points where there are large ledges and overhangs.
It is here that we find enormous stalactites (hanging down),
stalagmites (building up) and columns (when stalactites and
stalagmites meet) dating from the Pleistocene period. Due
to the earthquake mentioned above, some stalactites hang at
a 12-degree angle, cluing scientists such an event happened
since stalactites cannot form except in a perfectly perpendicular
manner. Some formations that happened after the earthquake
are indeed perpendicular, and in some of the stalactites that
formed before the earthquake one can see the top parts being
at an angle and their bottom parts, which kept forming afterwards,
is an important country, not only to the people who live there,
but to us at Common Ground 191. It represents another soil
added to the project in our long, arduous collection process.
The Blue Hole is a fascinating construct of Mother Nature,
another of the myriad wonders of our planet, the circular
“blue marble”, earth. It is this that we celebrate
in our project, and the oneness of many hands sharing its
soil. The word for peace in Belize is “paz”.
our eyes see our hands doing the work of our hearts,
the circle of Creation is completed
inside us, the doors of our souls fly open, and love
steps forth to heal everything in sight.” Michael
“Until he extends
his circle of compassion to include all living things,
man will not himself find peace.” Albert Schweitzer