GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. He doesn't react to stares. He knows they will come. He's aware he looks different - his appearance is part of what he is and what he believes.Ol Doinyo Laetoli le Baaba, also known as Kali Baaba, looks like no one sitting in the Summit Coffee House in Glenwood Springs."You don't worry about it. I just let it be," he says. "Everybody has to grow in his own way. If you like me, great. Of course I have feelings - I'm like every other human being. I have likes and dislikes. To say I don't, I'd be lying. But I'm not ruled by that, I'm not controlled by that."His large nose rings and lip disc inserts spark stares. His words cause frustration with a man seated nearby who shifts in his chair and sighs as Baaba speaks of God, essence, love, life, and death - among other topics.Baaba knows he's different, but he's comfortable in his own skin.From his ears, nose, and lip hang tribal adornments from 16 different initiations completed around the world.Although he is of African descent, Baaba's face is covered with the Ta Moko tattoo of New Zealand's Maori culture. The distinctive lines from his tattoos permanently embellishing his face tell the story of who he is.A teacher.A warrior.A messenger.A man of worldly travels.A man of the Earth.Connected to the Earth
Baaba speaks low, with a voice as comforting as a father reading a bedtime story to his little girl.His voice and demeanor are soothing, but his words - like his appearance - hold your attention.Sitting on the couch at the coffee house on a dreary Colorado afternoon, Baaba's legs are crossed Indian-style. Everything he does seems to attract attention.He does not wear shoes - his bare feet are concealed by a black robe. His neck is kept warm with a red-and-black plaid scarf. He says he hasn't wore shoes for 25 years.As a spiritual man, it's important for his feet to be bare when he touches the ground."My feet connect me to the Earth, and the Earth connects me to life," he says, pulling up his robe to reveal a thick brass bracelet around his ankle. "That connects me to the soul of every living thing."Baaba's ivory wrist bracelets from India and Africa and silver rings are part of his body. They are never removed.Whether it's how he lives his life or speaks his words, how he wears his jewelry or how his bare feet touch the cold ground, they are all symbols of life."Symbolism is the key language to understanding life. Everything is symbolic," he says. "That's why jewelry is permanent. Once we put it on, it's with us forever."Destiny awaitsFaye Franklin, of Glenwood Springs, is a student in Baaba's teaching as she continues down her spiritual path. Baaba is staying with Franklin to help her answer questions that seem to haunt her.She wants to find peace from a tormented past. That includes giving up her baby girl, born on Christmas Day in 1970, when Franklin was 15. She saw her for just three minutes - and then she was gone. "Back then there was a lot of shame about that. I had to be hid away at a shelter for teenage pregnant girls," Franklin says. "I just wish I could have raised her."
Franklin is thankful she was able to reunite with her daughter seven years ago in Nashville, Tenn."I was in shock," Franklin said. "In a way, I had lived in a lot of shame and that was painful. I'm grateful for everything I've been through but I hate it all. Love it, but hate it."She's also traumatized by the day her elderly mother and older sister were murdered - unmercifully run down with a truck driven by Franklin's former brother-in-law in Florida - on March 14, 2004. And the death of her 91-year-old father in October 2005 from injuries received in a car accident.How she can handle the knee-buckling grief?Where she can find comfort in her existence?Can she find something greater on her spiritual path?Baaba is there to help her. And she is willing to learn."A lot of things he's teaching I knew, but I didn't know how to live it," Franklin says. "He's intensifying it, teaching me to apply it and put it into practice. Everyone's spiritual in some way."Like Baaba, Franklin has gone to India on holy pilgrimages. She's been to India seven times, and walked through the streets of Calcutta barefoot. She and her 17-year-old daughter, Amethyst, would walk the Earth, from before the sun rose to after the sun set."As a child I would look at the stars and see the airplanes and wondered where the people were going," she says. "I always wanted to go to India, even as a child."Franklin met Baaba 16 months ago outside a Hindu temple in Los Angeles. The pair began talking - out of the blue - and have had a spiritual connection since.It's an energy Baaba says he can feel."You know, there's a magnetism that has to do with a spiritual energy," he says. "She carries a mothering energy and, with that, is the energy of the Earth. From that, everything has a potential for growing. The fact that she's a mother intensifies that. And from her, everything has the opportunity to learn and to grow."Franklin says her relationship with Baaba was predestined.
An act of karma."Coming to him meant I was ready for it. That was the biggest part of the connection - not the easiest journey," she says. "He said I had suffered so much and he was led to me. Through that suffering, beautiful things an come."Worldly perspectiveBaaba's mission is to help Franklin spiritually, but he also wants to educate those around him.His story is one of fascinating journeys and intriguing tales. Like the man irritated by Baaba's words at the coffee shop, not everyone is enthralled by his story.Born and raised in America, Baaba holds an honorary doctorate in esoteric metaphysics from the University of Metaphysics in Los Angeles."He's a holy man," Franklin says. "He just emanates purity."His bare feet have traveled the world.As a member of many tribes from his many travels, Baaba is a tribal elder and has lived amongst the indigenous Aborigine people, been a part of their rituals, shared their customs. He has studied in Africa, Australia, China, Europe, India, Indonesia, and Malaysia.His travels and the lessons he's learned along the way are passed along to those around him."I've spent most of my life trying to learn," he says. "There's always more to know. It doesn't make us superior - everyone has a teacher whether they call it that or not."At 61 years old, Baaba is a tribal elder, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.He says that people, especially children, leave an indelible impression upon him.
"Every child is my child," he says. 'My family is the planet."In his travels, Baaba doesn't always speak the language of the tribal people he visits.Rarely does that matter.He communicates in other ways, and says he never has trouble with finding a common bond."You have the language of heart, of soul," he says. "This is the most ancient of thinking."Baaba would like to share that connection with the people of Glenwood Springs before traveling back to Los Angeles - and beyond."I don't plan the future," he says. "I try to live in the now. Tomorrow exists, but at the same time it doesn't."Baaba will eventually leave Glenwood. When it's time to go, his bare feet will set off for another place, in search of new lessons and new people. And his bare feet will take him there.People will stare and wonder what he's about. And he'll be fine with that.Contact April Clark: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.orgPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO