When Peggielene Bartels went to bed on a summer night in 2008, she was an ordinary administrative assistant living in a modest one-bedroom condo just outside Washington D.C.
But a few hours later, when a persistent ringing phone woke her up in the dead of the August night, the 55-year-old found out she was much more than simply a secretary.
At the other end of the line was Bartels’s cousin, from Otuam, a small fishing village on the coast of Ghana. Excited and humble, he congratulated her on being the new king of Otuam.
“I said, ‘listen, it’s 4 o’clock in the morning in the U.S., I am very tired, let me sleep,'” remembers Bartels. “I thought he was trying to really play games with me.”
But this was no time for games.
The previous king of Otuam, who was Bartels’s uncle, had just died. The village elders, who remembered Bartels from the times she’d visited with her mother, had decided to anoint her as their new ruler.
After the initial shock, Bartels decided to accept the kingship. Over the course of a few days, she went from being plain old Peggielene Bartels, who had worked for nearly three decades at the Ghanaian Embassy in the United States, to becoming King Peggy — the first female king of Otuam, reigning over approximately 7,000 people.
“It never ever occurred to me [that I’d be Otuam’s king],” says Bartels, who’s been living in the United States since her early 20s. “I realized that on this earth, we all have a calling. We have to be ready to accept it because helping my people has really helped me a lot to know that I can really touch their lives,” she adds. “I would have really regretted it if I hadn’t really accept this calling.”
Although she still works at the Ghanaian Embassy, Bartels uses all her holiday every year to spend a month in Otuam.