Chotiners fulfill dream of adopting from Ethiopia
By Katie Scarvey
CHINA GROVE ó It had been Martie Chotiner’s dream to adopt since she was pregnant with her first child, Cameron, now almost 14. Her husband, Dr. Brad Chotiner, was in medical school at the time, and they couldn’t afford an expensive adoption. Years passed, and Brad and Martie had another child, Hannah, who is now 9.
Several years ago, with a different financial situation, Martie and Brad began considering adoption more seriously. Brad still had some concerns, unsure of how it would affect Cameron and Hannah.
Finally, though, the time felt right to him. The minute he gave her the green light, Martie sprang into action.
Although they had initially been considering a Chinese adoption, they chose to follow in their neighbors’ footsteps and adopt an Ethiopian child.
Martie wanted a girl ó and had even practiced braiding the hair of the neighbor children.
“I was dead set on a girl,” she says.
But fate had another plan.
Martie, who keeps busy managing her husband’s medical practice, had hired a friend to help her expedite the extensive paperwork involved.
They were working through Adoption Advocates International, an American agency that runs an orphanage called Layla House in Addis Ababa.
The agency sent a packet that included photos of 35 children.
Martie can’t explain exactly why, but she kept coming back to page three, where there was a photo of a 9-year-old boy.
“There was just something about him,” Martie says.
The family was going out to eat later. Martie didn’t realize it, but Brad had seen the packet on the kitchen counter where she’d left it. He’d looked through it before they met at the restaurant.
At Ruby Tuesday’s, Martie asked Hannah to bless the food ó and pray that the decision they had to make would be an easy one.
What followed seemed to the Chotiners to be God leading them in the same direction.
“Are you dead set on a girl?” Brad asked Martie.
He explained that he’d been drawn to a boy in the packet.
Martie was dumbfounded. “What did he look like?” she asked.
“His name was Mekasha,” Brad said.
Martie began to cry.
“That’s the night Mekasha was born into our family,” Martie says.
When Martie asked about adopting him, she was told that another family was also considering him. Two thousand dollars, Martie was told, would hold Mekasha.
Martie didn’t even have to think about it. In a moment she describes as surreal, she whipped out her credit card, featuring Mickey Mouse on the front, and made the payment. (The total cost for the adoption would be $15,000.)
Six months later, in April of 2008, Brad, Martie, Cameron and Hannah flew to Africa to meet Mekasha at Layla House in Addis Ababa, which cares for 170 children at a time and places about 320 a year. They spent a week getting to know Mekasha.
Mekasha was considered a “waiting” child ó the term describing older children, who typically take much longer to be adopted than infants. The Chotiners specifically wanted a child between the ages of 7 and 10.
Children who aren’t adopted by the time they turn 15 are released and must fend for themselves.
The sobering reality of Ethiopian life became clear to the Chotiners during their brief visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city. There is a 50 percent unemployment rate, Brad says, and a high illiteracy rate as well. He described the disturbing sight of children sleeping in the median of the highway.
Because Brad is a physician, they were able to bring $12,000 worth of donated medicine with them to the orphanage. Brad’s patients also donated 21 Snugli-style infant carriers for the orphanage, which kept some and shared the extra.
The family met with Mekasha’s aunt, Tewebech, Mekasha’s guardian after his parents died. She loved Mekasha but felt she could no longer care for him.
“Sometimes, the family will ask you to raise the child Muslim,” says Martie, who was afraid of having to say no to Tewebech.
To forestall a request she could not grant, Martie told Tewebech through an interpreter that Mekasha would be raised in a Christian home.
Tewebech got tears in her eyes, Martie says. “That’s what I’ve prayed for,” she told Martie.
When Mekasha returned home with the Chotiners, he had to adjust to a radically different life.
“I was scared of going to bed,” he says, explaining that he was afraid of wild animals.
Mekasha lived in the countryside, Martie explains, where there was a lot of wildlife, like hyenas, so his fear was rooted in his old reality.
Although malnourished, Mekasha was otherwise healthy, a blessing since both of his parents had died of AIDS. His father died first, and his mother died when he was 6. (Mekasha is HIV negative.)
After his father died, Martie says, Mekasha took care of his mother as well as he could. He would go out to find food for her, he told Martie, sometimes by simply staring at a man until he shared a bit. He would also scavenge for coal to sell.
When his English became good enough, Mekasha shared with Martie that his mother was so weak before she died that she couldn’t push the mice away.
After his mother died, Mekasha lived with his aunt in a one-room stick hut, with no indoor plumbing and a roof that leaked when it rained. Such homes in Ethiopia are warmed by a fire at night, and many children ó including Mekasha ó sustain burns from rolling into the fire as they sleep. Fortunately, Mekasha’s burns were minor.
Mekasha’s native tongue is Amharic, a Semitic language, but he has learned English quickly. Although he is now 11 years old, he started school in a kindergarten class last year at Grace Academy in Rockwell. Now, he’s in the third grade, and with some tutoring help, the Chotiners believe that by next year, he will be ready to enter the fifth grade.
Since coming to the United States, Mekasha has had many new experiences. He’s been to the beach, Disneyland and New York City. He’s experienced Halloween, including eating too much candy ó something he’d never tasted before coming to this country.
“It’s been so interesting watching him explore the world,” Brad says.
Mekasha loves to play soccer and is on a YMCA team ó the Thrashers ó with Hannah, coached by their father.
Cameron and Hannah love their new brother, although there was a period of adjustment, Martie says, when they had to deal with Mekasha receiving a lot of attention.
“It’s been a good experience for me,” Hannah says. “It’s taught me a lot of things. I have a very, very good life. I didn’t know the suffering of other people until we got Mekasha.”
“I know this is what the Lord wanted us to do,” Cameron says. I feel blessed that we can carry out his will.”
Keeping Mekasha connected to his Ethiopian roots is important to the Chotiners. They speak on the phone periodically with his aunt, who has learned to say, “I love you” in English in order to express her feelings toward the Chotiners. They also frequent an Ethiopian restaurant in Charlotte, Meskerem,where they have met many new friends.
Martie has learned how to cook Ethiopian dishes, using the strong spices Mekasha loves. “If we can do it Ethiopian style, we do it,” she says.
Martie buys jalapeno peppers weekly for Mekasha, who likes to put them in most dishes, including spaghetti.
The American culture of abundance ó or overabundance ó sometimes baffles him. In the beginning, the immense variety of choices at the grocery store was overwhelming to him, and when the family went on a cruise, Brad says, Mekasha couldn’t believe how much food was thrown away.
Since arriving, Mekasha has grown significantly, gaining 25 pounds in the 18 months he’s been here, although he’s still quite lean.
Martie says that Mekasha has thus far been defined by the many losses in his life, but she’s confident that with time, that will change.
“We look forward to the time when Mekasha is Mekasha for what he has to offer the world, not for what he’s lost.”