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THE UNEXPECTED KING


Just a year ago (on September 16, 2009), an article in The Washington Post began with these words: "The king folds her own laundry, chauffeurs herself around Washington in a 1992 Honda, and answers her own phone. Her boss's phone, too." The article was about Peggielene Bartels, a secretary in the Ghanaian embassy in Washington for 30 years. She grew up in Otuam, Ghana, a small city of about 7,000 before she came to the United States.


Then 30 years later, when the 90-year-old king of Otuam, Ghana, died, the elders performed an ancient ritual to determine the next king. They prayed and poured schnapps on the ground while they read the names of the king's 25 relatives. When steam rose from the schnapps on the ground, the name that they were reading at that moment would be the new king -- and that's exactly what happened when they read Peggielene's name.


So now Peggielene is a king! In Ghana, she has a driver and a chef and an eight-bedroom palace (though it needs repairs). She has power to resolve disputes, appoint elders, and manages more than 1,000 acres of family-owned land. "I'm a big-time king, you know," she told the reporter. When she returned for her coronation, they carried her through the streets on a litter, and she even wore a heavy gold crown.


Paul Schwartzman, the reporter, wrote, "In the humdrum of ordinary life, people periodically yearn for something unexpected, some kind of gilded escape, delivered, perhaps, by an unanticipated inheritance or a winning lottery ticket." Well, Peggielene got the unexpected.


(Paul Schwartzman, "Secretary by Day, Royalty by Night," The Washington Post, 9-16-09. From a sermon by C. Philip Green, Don't Sell Your Birthright, 10/7/2010)

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