"Don't frown?" Peggy asked. "What if I see something I don't like?"
"Don't frown!" Auntie Esi repeated. "You can make a mental note of the problem and deal with it later."
"And you can't eat or drink in public. It's unseemly for a king to be shoving things into her face. Plus, if there is a witch in the crowd watching you she can make you choke to death on whatever you're consuming."
Peggy had heard about the no-eating-in-public rule, though she was unaware it had to do with witches. It made sense, though, that witches, known as vengeful, jealous creatures, would want to harm a king, especially one who stood for the good. Witches created havoc for the sheer malicious pleasure of it, and you never knew who in your village was a witch. Sudden illnesses, childhood deaths, accidents: they might all be traced back to the kindly old grandmother next door or the jovial uncle down the street. Only a traditional priest, using tried and true rituals, could determine if bad luck was caused by the ancestors punishing selfish behavior or by a witch making trouble for good people, and then prescribe the proper rituals to take care of it.
Peggy sighed again. As king, she had to worry whether Uncle Joseph would haunt her for not burying him in a timely manner. She had to remain vigilant against evil spirits who might zoom into her. And now she had to defend herself against spiteful jealous witches who could be anywhere. Not eating or drinking in public was simple compared to these more troubling issues.
"In Otuam I will abide by this rule," she said. "But in the US, we all work so much that we have to grab a bite in public sometimes because when we get home it is too late to cook. And no one there knows I am a king."
"They know at the embassy. One of them might be a witch. And even if they aren't, it would be undignified to stuff your face even there."
Witches. At the embassy. Looking back on her twenty-nine years there, Peggy realized this could explain a lot of things.
"And Nana," Auntie Esi said, "the king can't argue in public."
"Argue in public?" she said, all wide-eyed innocence. Surely they hadn't heard anything of her arguments at the embassy. "Me?"
Cousin Comfort chimed in, "Nana, we all know that even since you were a small child, when someone misbehaves, you can't let it go."
"When you see an injustice," Cousin Comfort continued, "you are like a village dog with his jaws locked on a bone. You just don't give it up. But as king you will have to deal with these things in the council chamber, and not yell at people on the street or beat them with brooms." The aunties all laughed at that one.
Auntie Esi said, "And if you are wearing the crown and want to say a crude thing, you have to take it off before you speak so as not to dishonor it."
"And there's one more thing," Auntie Esi added. "It is not regal for a king to always be running off to the bathroom. When you have official events, we will give you a special dish that takes away the urge to urinate for the entire day. Still, it is best not to drink much before or during. Just a little water so you don't faint in the heat."
The heat. Though it was still early, the delicious coolness of the night had vanished, replaced by a stultifying miasma of sticky air. During the etiquette lesson, Peggy and her aunties had glowed at first, then perspired, and now the sweat was running down their faces in rivulets.
Peggy knew that the best drink to stave off the heat was beer, which Ghanaians drank in the morning as the heat rose. But beer was also the very drink to make you most want to run to the toilet. Peggy remembered an American comedian who once said, It's good to be da king. Except in Otuam the king would have to be thirsty, and hot, with a bursting bladder and witches putting hexes on her. Maybe it wasn't always good to be the king of Otuam.
From King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman. Copyright 2012 by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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