The Woman Who Would Be King

Peggielene Bartels lives in Silver Spring and works as a secretary. When she steps off an airplane in Ghana on Thursday, arriving in the coastal town her family has controlled for half a century, she will be royalty...

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Photo courtesy of the Washington Post

Some people play in cover bands or flag football leagues when they're not working. Peggielene Bartels is the king of a Ghanaian village. From the Washington Post:

The king folds her own laundry, chauffeurs herself around Washington in a 1992 Honda and answers her own phone. Her boss's phone, too.

Peggielene Bartels lives in Silver Spring and works as a secretary. When she steps off an airplane in Ghana on Thursday, arriving in the coastal town her family has controlled for half a century, she will be royalty -- with a driver, a chef and an eight-bedroom palace, albeit one in need of repairs she will help finance herself.

"I'm a big-time king, you know," said Bartels, seated at her desk at the Ghanaian embassy just off Van Ness Street NW, where she has worked for almost 30 years.

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.

In Bartels's case, that moment arrived 15 months ago. The phone in her condominium awoke her at 4 a.m.

"Hello, Nana," said the overseas caller -- a relative, as it turned out -- employing a title Ghanaians use to refer to people of stature, from kings and queens to grandparents.

"What you mean, 'Nana?' " answered Bartels, 55, who has no grandchildren -- or children, for that matter. Her husband lives overseas. She thought the call was a prank.

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