Friday, November 03, 2006

Ain't Life Grand?

OCTOBER 18 - $50 a day isn’t bad at all. In fact, it’s a fortune. I come from a Third World country where the daily wage of most people averages $5.90. In the provinces, in agricultural areas, that number drops down to $3.27. If you’ve seen the Miniature Earth flash presentation, you would know that about 53% of the world’s population struggle to live on a mere $2 a day. When I grimace on camera groaning about my $50 per diem allowance, please understand that I am well aware of these numbers and complain more out of jest than any real discomfort at my situation. The truth is, I don’t think I can be any more blessed. $50 a day can feed an entire family in the Philippines. I think I’m the luckiest person on earth.

The hostel we stay at is no Bellagio, but it gives me a comfortable bed, a warm blanket, and a clean bathroom. That’s more than what 75% of the world’s population has, and I’m very happy. I’m happy to wake up to a cold Nevada morning, blessed to be part of this unique experience. Each and every day that I wake up, I thank God for all the blessings He’s given me and continues to give me. $50 a day? Life is good. Life is very good. Maybe it’s not enough to truly experience Las Vegas, which asks you to indulge yourself a little and consequently spend a little (or a lot), but it’s makes for a decent, survivable, even comfortable living.

You can imagine my delight, then, when the folks from Discovery told us that the Chase Manhattan bank had agreed to sponsor one indulgent activity for us each week. We would all have to collectively agree on one activity that we would otherwise be unable to afford on our relatively meager $50 daily budget. For Las Vegas, we had considered staying at one of the luxury hotels. I jokingly suggested that we blow $1000 on a hand of Poker, but the real consensus was to go visit the Grand Canyon. Personally, I was neither here nor there about the whole thing, perhaps because my only real understanding of the Grand Canyon was Chevy Chase’s Vacation. But considering it’s one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and one of America’s most distinctive natural features, it was a no-brainer decision.

When Chase Manhattan used the word ‘Splurge’ to describe our activity, they weren’t kidding! To begin our Chase Splurge activity, we were fetched by a stretch limousine painted in the glittery colors of the American flag. Stretch limousines are the stuff of television shows and music videos and I never thought I’d be riding in one. But all of it was very real, even the surreal moment when the chauffeur opened the sunroof and allowed us to pop our torsos outside for our very own rock star moments. The limousine took us to the air field in Boulder City, which was about 20 minutes away from Las Vegas. Our television moments went a notch higher when we saw the helicopter that our splurge budget afforded us. Just like the limousine, it was painted in the colors of the American flag, and it was fabulous.

The helicopter ride itself was a lot of fun, and it was incredible seeing the desert from such a unique perspective. We flew over Lake Mead, Blackrock Mountain (Ok, it’s not really called that, but since the mountain is made from black volcanic rock, I thought I’d name it that way. Besides, I think all the geeks will enjoy the reference), and Hoover Dam, which is an experience in itself. I don’t think I’ve ever been so blessed and being in that helicopter, with all the world below me, it made me realize just how magical and wonderful the world can be.

As great as the helicopter ride was, it was nothing compared to the experience of being face-to-face with the Grand Canyon. When we landed on the helipad of the Grand Canyon West Airport, we were greeted by ice cold winds that sliced into our clothing, like a harbinger of Alaska. We were greeted by a Native American, Wilfred Whatonaw, and he drove us on a really cool Hummer to Eagle Point, close to where they were building the Skyway, an engineering marvel that extends a U-shaped glass bridge 4,000 feet overlooking the Grand Canyon. Scheduled to open on January 1, 2007, I felt somewhat disappointed that I wasn’t able to experience it. But the grandeur of the whole place only provided impetus for me to try and come back, hopefully with my wife and kids. It is a dream that I’m determined to fulfill.

Grand Canyon West is owned and managed by the Hualapai Nation, a Native American Indian tribe that resides in the Grand Canyon, and they treated us to two of their tribal dances. The first was a Grass Dance, where the dancer re-enacted the flattening of the grasslands to enable them to inhabit the plains. The other was a Hoop Dance, which consisted of the dancer masterfully juggling and articulating with a number of hoops. It was mesmerizing. The hoop dance represents a great number of things, not least of which was the world, and how it can easily fall apart. The dancer, Lowery Begay, would transform the hoops into a globe, into an eagle… it was simply remarkable. The world, he explains, can easily fragment – we are many different people, many nations – but what was important was that we could always put it back together for we were, at the heart of it, one. We were all part of the human race. When he spoke these words, you could feel how deeply he believed in it, and it was touching. There was a very strong kinship that we all had underneath it all, and it was humbling.

The Grand Canyon itself made me feel miniscule but hardly insignificant. Eagle’s Point was called such because across the ridge was a rock formation that resembled an eagle with outstretched wings. To the Hualapai, the eagle is a messenger for the Creator, and if one were to mutter a prayer, the eagle would carry it to Heaven. I don’t think I’ve ever been as moved to prayer as I was then, faced with the indescribable grandeur of the Grand Canyon. It was God’s hand in full force, a boundless canvas painted with an ever-changing sky and a cascade of rocks deftly sculpted over thousands of years. If I felt blessed coming into this trip, I felt completely favored at that moment. It made me understand more how utterly special this opportunity was, and how imperative it was for me to not waste the moment and share the experience as best as I am able to.

The vastness of the Grand Canyon, oddly enough, made me feel even more important and loved. God had created these things in our world for a reason. The beauty of the world is meant to be seen, felt, and shared. Standing there, in the midst of its glorious expanse, made me think of everyone I’ve ever met, of everyone I love, and how truly blessed we are as a race to have a God that cares for us enough to paint for us a world that is more colorful, more beautiful, more stupefying than we can begin to comprehend. Before we left, Wilfred muttered for us a short blessing for a good journey in the Hualapai tongue. That small gesture that lasted all of ten seconds was as significant as the magnificence of a natural wonder that had been around for ten thousand years.

As the day ended, with the sun setting and our helicopter flying back into Las Vegas, I thanked Him for granting me such a charmed life. The experience, the people we meet and care for, all of life’s adventures from the smallest thing to the grandest event… it’s not something you can buy for $50 or a $5 million. If you look at it in the right way, all things are beautiful. And that’s perfectly free.

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