Amanda Koster

thoughts and experiences of an international documentarian

Samara Lectures represents SalaamGarage founder, Amanda Koster

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Samara Lectures is a full-service Seattle-based lecture agency that focuses on speakers who make a difference in the world.  SalaamGarage is the perfect example of the type of organization we like to support – making connections by telling stories about real people and their struggles. Since we specialize in bringing this kind of inspirational first person story to audiences, Amanda Koster is a perfect addition to our roster….

“We’ve been very impressed by Amanda’s talks at conference such as TEDX SeattleWeb 2.0, and Gnomedex.  The most challenging part of talking about humanitarian work is making the suffering of people who live far away, that the audience will never meet, relevant and personal.  When we saw Amanda successfully raise $2600 for fistula surgeries in Ethiopia with a five minute talk at Ignite Seattle, we knew we had to get  her more opportunities to share her work.”

Amanda Koster’s bio is now available on our website including a description of her talk and quotes from people who’ve presented her as a speaker.  If you know of a lecture series, conference, company, artist in residency, or school that could benefit from her inspiration and expertise, please contact us at

Written by amandakoster

July 12, 2011 at 4:49 pm

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Getting Canon 5D Mark2 footage and separate audio into FCP to edit

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I would imagine taming a tiger would be easier because I can easily see when the tiger is trying to rip my head off. This process has a lot of invisible irritations that I don’t know what is going on until much time and processing has been eaten up (versus a simple decapitation).

So, I thought I would just make this easier for others after logging hours and hours of tutorials, emails, Facebook communications.

1. Shoot your footage (albeit it 12 min increments :-l)
2. Keep the DSLR audio capture on, though you won’t want to use the sound later. That audio will serve as a ‘map’ to synch your nice audio.
3. Capture audio on a separate device. I use a jerry-rigged Olympus with my XLR adapters from my old video camera (below) because when I got into this the Zoomh 4nwasn’t on the market yet.  I will upgrade to the Zoom h4n soon because I want the XLR plugs among a few other reasons:

4. Finish capturing content.
5. Really think about how you will organize your content. I do something like this:

6. Offload the entire DSLR card contents over to your harddive, not just the footage. Yes all those files and folders that seem useless and you don’t know what they mean. Those too.
7.  Offload your audio file (s) onto your hard-drive as well.
8. I say hard-drive because I do not keep anything on my laptop. I have a Drobo that houses all of my archives, of everything.
9. You can’t just import clips from the DSLR into Final Cut Pro(FCP) and start editing. They have to be converted.  Even though Canon has a plug-in for FCP I found it to be slow and confusing, so I use this software to do this:

This one is free, though no guarantees with upgrades, etc:

My friend also recommends this:

10. Follow this how to (convert your DSLR clips) vide by Philip Bloom (who I think is great when it comes to tutorials:)

11. From there, you need to work on your audio. I like Audacity to do simple clean up jobs and processing audio.

It is important to capture it the best audio you can at first at ‘time of capture’ (I just made that up), but you can do a few things with Audacity that makes good audio sound better. You can also do major logging and labeling with Audcaity. I spent 6 months with that on a project last year in 2 languages…  let’s not go there.

So, import you audio and MAKE SURE you work at 48000 Hz.  Otherwise your audio will not synch and you’ll have and hear a very trippy (and maddening)  ‘audio drift.’ You can set that in the lower left corner of the Audacity timeline.

12. Work on your audio a bit and export as an MP3 file into the project folder.
13. Now that your video (with its bleh audio from the DSLR camera) and good audio captured from some kind of separate device are downloaded it’s time to open FCP.
14. Import your content info FCP. Again, keeping everything organized.
15. lay down all your content
16. Open Plural Eyes and sync your audio.
Here’s the software:

And a tutorial:

17. Your video and audio should be synched. Right now I am working how to ditch the DSLR audio I don’t want to hear, but I think Plural Eyes still needs to synch… I need to figure that out….
18.  Did find this nifty how-to page on Vimeo, where I will stage the rough cuts for my clients to view:

More soon……


Written by amandakoster

April 11, 2011 at 10:39 pm

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Can you give her 5 minutes?

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Here is a typical moment during a SalaamGarage trip.

This is Sarah Henderson: http://sirenapictures.com  She lives in Portland, OR and came with us on the SalaamGarage Ethiopia trip 2010. She is awesome. We were working with the Hamlin Fistula Hospital, an absolutely amazing organization.

What is happening here? Fuji donated polaroid-esque cameras to SalaamGarage so that we could give photos back to the women rather than just taking them. Sarah Henderson is photographing patients at the hospital.

Most of Hamlin’s patients are from a remote village in Ethiopia.  We found a woman in physical therapy learning how to walk again.

She had a double fistula, double meaning both her vaginal canal and the rectum lining were torn during labor. These linings are commonly torn during labor because the women are married and pregnant before they are fully developed. Much of this is due to child marriages.

Her baby died in utero. While delivering the dead baby these linings tore. As a result she leaked urine and feces uncontrollably. Her family was ashamed of the way that made her smell and built her a hut in the back of her families hut and she lived in it  for 7 years before making to the hospital. During those years her leg and foot muscles atrophied until she could no longer walk, eventually resorting to a fetal position. Her family threw food out to her as she lay on the dirt floor of her mud hut for those 7 years. She said she ate like a dog, dragging herself up to the pile of food, eating while lying there in the dirt, leaking.

She made it to Hamlin, they performed surgery on her and we are all praying it will heal properly. Currently she has catheters connected to her for drainage.

Sarah was photographing patients at physical therapy and I walked up to see what she was doing. We had extreme restrictions around photography at the hospital, so I opted to walk around and check in with people rather than work on a story.

Sarah had completed photographing women with her regular camera and pulled out the Fuji camera so that she could give her a photo of herself.

She walks with a walker, and slowly made it up against the banister where Sarah was photographing women for their turn with the Fuji.  Her feet were completely crooked. Maybe a toe or a heel touched the ground as she walked. Mangled, I had never seen anything like it. She leaned very hard on the walker avoiding any weight bearing on her atrophied feet and legs to make it up to the banister. Once up against it she motioned for us to take the walker out of the photograph. From there she did her best to slowly stand up on those feet somehow and motioned for Sarah to take the photo, now. Sarah went to take a photo and wouldn’t you know it, the camera was out of film so she had to walk away and reload.  It was sort of a photo time-out and everyone took their eyes off her, except me. I watched her lean back onto the banister with an expression of sheer agony that sent shivers down my spine.  She was in so much pain standing there for us, so that we could take a damn picture.

Sarah came back with a loaded camera. The woman stood up and I knew she was hiding the pain this time. She motioned for us to get the walker out of the way again and then lifted her chin so amazingly high… more shivers down my spine… and Sarah took a few photos.

When Sarah was done the woman took the walker back, leaned up on it again and waited in agony for the photo to develop. Once it did Sarah handed it to her and she slowly, quietly smiled. She looked up at Sarah and whispered ‘amasiganalo’, ‘thank you’ in Amharic. Her language.

She  got back on her walker and slowly limped back, dragging her completely disabled legs and feet back into physical therapy so that she could finish up her session which we interrupted.


SalaamGarage is an absolute privilage. We find ourselves in these situations and get to tell you about it. I ask you, reading this, would you help her? Would you donate a few bucks to Hamlin? It will take 5 minutes. Here is how you do it:

You WILL change a women’s life forever. I know, because I met her. And now so did you.

And to us, the SalaamGarage team. We are NOT too busy. We are not at all too damn busy to get these stories out and help this woman, help the hospital. I don’t care how crazy our schedule is. We weren’t too busy to spend 2 weeks in Ethiopia. We weren’t too busy to take her photo. This woman stood there for us, in sheer agony so that we could take a photo. And then what? They weren’t too busy to tell us their story, share their lives with us. We have no excuse not to help. Get those stories out there and not for our own glory. Do it for hers.

You can start with a 5 minute presentation about  your experience at a Ignite in your town:

5 Minutes. Can you give her 5 minutes?


Written by amandakoster

January 7, 2011 at 6:40 pm

“I may have had more impact on a cheeseburger”

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Just submitted an Ignite talk:

“I may have had more impact on a cheeseburger”

Doral Chenoweth: a viral video (made by a flip camera) of a homeless guy with a great voice spread like wildfire and his life was changed forever. A very simple act of grace, a few hours on the computer and pow, massive impact. SalaamGarage: thousands of dollars spent, thousands of miles traveled, pro media gear, award winning media makers with social media at their fingertips, capturing stories of people in dire need. Where is the impact? What is wrong with this company? SalaamGarage: several years later.
Hope I get in.

Written by amandakoster

January 6, 2011 at 7:15 pm

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‘The Social Network’ and the imitation American Dream

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Just flew back from the east coast after 10 days doing the holidays with dear friends and family, which was awesome. Watched ‘The Social Network‘ on the plane. Fascinating movie. Exciting glimpse into the ivy league start-up success Mark Zuckerburg, founder of Facebook… or sort of founder… and about the creation of the company.  The 21C maverick rock star, kind of a today version of  ‘Less Than Zero’ meets start-up, fast and lonely lifestyle riddled with a destructive desire for power, wealth, sex, recognition, greed, stuff like that, all wrapped up into a truly ‘cool idea.’ I liked how ‘real’ and current it felt especially since Facebook is on the tip of our tongues. After the whole thing the friends all sue each other, relationships are shattered, billions are made and Mark is still lonely, hitting refresh over and over impatiently (neurotically?) hoping a woman will friend him.

I’ve dated this guy (s). No not Mark Zuckerburg, but that start-up entrepreneur guy, that guy married to his work, starving for recognition, wanting to please his dad, desperately needing to impress his x-girlfriend or x-wife (or eeeww- daughter), needing a few more million so THEN he can start his life… on and on. Hamster wheel. I didn’t totally get this from Mark, he seemed to be innocently obsessed with Facebook, pretending to be an as*hole though actually hiding and protecting that he is really a softie who just wants to be loved and accepted. But I have met this guy before and foolishly thought, at times, that we were in a relationship. I unapologetically loved them cuz that’s just what I do, clearly to a fault.

With Mark’s character in the movie and with the men I knew, each situation breaks my heart. It breaks my heart when love shows up and then is eventually extinguished by fear, addiction to money, power, slave to anything other than gratitude for the amazing gift of love itself. It truly breaks my heart.

Unfortunately I think this beast is in us all. It is inescapable, it is the imitation American Dream. Not what our forefathers fought for, not what Martin Luther King dreamt of, it’s this get rich before you’re 40 or 30 or whatever pick a decade, before you’re ‘someone.’ .. lie that enslaves so many of us. Before  _______________ can start in your life. Fill in blank. Complete with the messed up hair, clad in North Face outerwear and ‘f*ck-you’ flip flops…  Same as Mark. And with each of these boyfriends I have either watched them or dealt with remnants of them falling apart chasing that dream, many ending up with plastic love.

One had a mental breakdown + became an alcoholic (ironically one of his later x-wives contacted me via Facebook to tell me all about their terrible marriage), another is so emotionally locked down after his wife had an affair and the marriage fell apart while chasing the dream he claims he may never warm up again (and told me that persuing a long distance relationship with me still wouldn’t exceed his annual golf budget), another after pursuing me for years just couldn’t keep it in his pants after the divorce where his work ripped the marriage apart, another here on a very long visa (or American ‘marriage/divorce’) long enough to attend an ivy league school, make a ton of money or at least have us think so, ride out the American cowboy lifestyle boots and all (except after a hike the 1st thing he’d do was look at himself in the rear view mirror- not too cowboy) until he cashed in/checked out when his Indian parents roped him back to India for an arranged marriage.  Most likely all part of a plan that he ooops, forgot to tell me. But hey, thanks a lot for leaving me your … microwave… ?

Each situation break my heart. Separate from these men it is the infectious, cold fear that breaks my heart. That fear of being truthful, loving and graceful with each other. Instead we are dismissive, unavailable, we lie, avoid, quit. This is why my heart aches and is ultimately the driving force behind my ferocious hunger for truth and connection within my personal life, through my work, it has become my mission in life.


Anyway. It was interesting to re-live the ups and downs of another start-up entrepreneur dude… this time on a screen which was much easier to deal with.  Besides addressing that the standard chasing-the-dream may include sex drugs and rock and roll, that seemingly priceless-pat-on-the-back from ‘ol dad and past women, covering how greed kills friendships, showcasing the genius geek as the new maverick rock star… besides all that the movie addressed something else that I have been thinking about for a while. Social media and where does it leave us.

In the last several years millions of us dived head fist into a cesspool of umpteen social media sites, landing for now on Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, used to be Freindster, Myspace and a few others we chuckle about now. When Facebook came I started to see something, along with speaking at social media conferences on behalf of SalaamGarage.  Facebook in particular, and this is not an original thought, clearly taps into that insatiable, narcissistic rock star we idolize, infecting and devouring our precious minutes. That need to be recognized, important, loved, the hope that someone out there is really listening, that someone actually cares and is loosely a part of our lives.  And that in the end, no matter how many ‘friends’ our profile says we have, this does not by any means substitute a real live friend in person, or the friends we truly have, real friends, that we can if we are lucky count on two hands. And further, Facebook may actually be keeping us from being with those friends (not to mention a growing deficit in productivity), because instead of just calling them and committing to facetime (fyi: the url is already taken), we are obsessed with everyone else’s lives, making new friends, suggesting friends, racking up friends, being friended, etc. Ironically not really being a friend. And it is a huge time suck. What did we do with that time before it took over? Facebook has definitely helped me to keep in touch with and locate old friends, build a business, accomplish heaps of great things. But I still consider myself blessed to be able to count my true friends on two hands, roughly 7-9 fingers. No matter what my profile says no more fingers have been spoken for since accepting Facebook into my life.

Facebook also taps into the dark ugly beast of loneliness. How may of us flip though profile after profile, looking at one bad party picture after the next. What are we looking for? Why are we doing this?  We are lonely. We want to ‘be there’, we want to ‘know them’, we wish we were with them right now, anywhere but living our own real-time lives. We don’t call. Instead, we comment.

The movie ends brilliantly. Mark briefly connects with a woman versus his typical M.O. of ignoring her or dropping obnoxious, condescending remarks. Once she leaves the room he immediately looks up her Facebook profile, goes to ‘friend her’, pauses at his own creation and then does it. Then he sits there, in a super classy boardroom, in his version of a dress up suit (no Northface) all alone. After loosing his best friend, millions of dollars… here is the worlds youngest billionaire sitting there hitting refresh to see, I am guessing, if she accepted his friendship request.


Click, click, click. Hooray for such a dark, human ending that begs at least one question: what was it worth?

I often wonder what it must feel like to be in the midst of such success, look over  your shoulder and see a trail of broken hearts.

Truth is, we have all been in both positions: the breaker and the broken.

It reminds me of what I told each of those boyfriends. Even some male friends in my life now, all have spent some precious face time trying to convince me (or themselves) that chasing the dream is worth it, don’t I understand? That “Once I get __________________ then I can _____________________”, and my trying to convince them (or myself) that is all a farce. Life is NOW. It is arrogant to think everything will go our way. There is no guarantee that all of this will fall into place they way we want it to. We just don’t have that much control. I watched each of them charge into completely unforeseen circumstances: a mental breakdown, booze, a divorce, affairs, major health issues, abusive x-wife who hits their daughter, another suicidal daughter, etc. This is not exclusive to .com. Their fields ranged from bio-tech, law, oil and natural gas to yes (surprise surprise: the Indian), a software startup. All amazing teachers though none of them factored life, life-ing into their get-rich American Dream rock star equation. Not one and yet they all ended up facing something huge that money couldn’t buy.  Most of their wives cheated on them and it broke them. The last man in my life… I pleaded… ‘Do not end up like these guys, don’t wait for your bank account to reach $X so that you can finally love loving. You have no idea what will happen.’ I had tears in my eyes because I don’t think he was listening.

A month later his dad was diagnosed with a very very serious brain tumor.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…”

Go see the movie.

Written by amandakoster

January 4, 2011 at 6:16 am

A [Long] Walk To Beautiful.

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We leave for Ethiopia in a week. SalaamGarage is leading a trip to work with the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

To get up to speed, watch A Walk To Beautiful. And try very hard not to cry. Just try.

This is a pivotal trip for me personally in many ways. For one, Ethiopia was my first time to a developing country back in 1993.  A seed was planted there, very very deep into my heart…  along with a vision for the way I would devote my life. It was also the trip where I bumped into ‘Salem Garage,’ while in Eritrea, which gave me the idea for ‘SalaamGarage.’ From there, we drove over to Ethiopia and my life path completely changed.

That trip in 1993 changed my life. Period.

I am forever grateful to Senayt Samuel, my friend from university who invited me to visit Ethiopia and Eritrea when she first heard that she was granted her green card. “Want to come with me to Africa?” she asked. Yes. Done. I showed her my airline tickets and her jaw dropped. “I said yes, I meant it” and smiled. Ethiopia and Eritrea had just ended a 30-year civil war and I witnessed a post war country for the first time.  That is a journal entry on its own, to see the bombed out buildings, the mass graves (piles of dead bodies with skin on their bones, boots on still on their feet and screaming faces), destroyed roads, veterans missing legs, arms, eyes, hearts in the streets of Addis Ababa. Then in the blazing heat seeing injured people relentlessly rebuild their county. I will never, ever, ever forget that experience. I was 22 years old.

So now I am going back. I get to go back and am so grateful. This time I get to try to help someone. I’m not just an onlooker this time; I have formed a company that I truly hope has a positive impact on people’s lives. Hopefully more seeds will be planted.

This is a pivotal trip for me in another way. A few weeks ago I was visiting the man I love in Ohio.  Days after the visit his father was diagnosed with a serious brain tumor and a week later he told me he couldn’t handle the distance relationship right now with his father’s situation. Ouch.

Life is so uncomfortable sometimes.

And then I began to read up on fistula and watched ‘A Walk To Beautiful,’ learned about how these women endure long and painful labor to end up delivering a dead baby and meanwhile the lining between their anus and or urethra was torn and they leak feces and or urine. From there, they are shunned from their community treated like garbage. Their world gave up on them.

Serious ouch.

I am sad about the relationship with this man, thinking of his father and their whole family, and man…. then I learn about these women. Sad and motivated at the same time. Very motivated. Life is amazing. Amazing how it changes in an instant. Then amazing how simply we can opt to change someone’s life forever.


It is easier to give up than to persevere. Steadfastness. It takes something, a focus above the horizon, off the easy path, opt out of the default. Choice, that’s all really. These women did not give up. They walked 7-27 hours to this hospital barefoot with God knows how much or how little food and water so that hopefully a surgeon will perform surgery and literally save their lives. They weren’t actually ‘dying’ either, they were leaking urine and feces. But truly, they may as well die because their husbands and communities left them, gave up on them and moved on. And all over the world that can be an indirect murder of a women.

Their world gave up on them. And can you blame them? Their lives were at risk as well. The shame we humans create from unusual situations is deadly.

It shames the husbands in the community to be with a woman, their wife and the mother of their own children who smells like urine and cannot help it. She was trying to deliver their child and her body was injured. The men defaulted to ‘easy’ and the women lost it all. But it’s messy. One can not point the finger at the problem. Instead we can motivate, believe in and work towards a solution.

This trip just hit me. My past history with Ethiopia, the way that trip changed the course of my life and without a doubt why I have done all the work I have done for the last 15 years, created SalaamGarage, the public speaking, the book, everything.

I return to Ethiopia with some sadness, distant from someone I love dearly and for his family.  I return to Ethiopia with a deep deep gratitude for how Ethiopia changed my whole life, and a powerful respect for these women who don’t quit and brave it all for hopes that their lives will be changed forever.  I return to Ethiopia motivated to do the best I can for the SalaamGarage team, the partnering NGO, the women they are serving and just whoever I run into. Serve the best way I know how. This trip just hit me over the head pretty hard. It is such a privilege to do this work.

Wish us all well.  All of us.

Written by amandakoster

November 18, 2010 at 2:08 am

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mastering life: sitting still with crap.

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i’m convinced mastering life is the ability to sit with seriously crappy situations in total stillness with a smug look on your face knowing things will ultimately change.

Written by amandakoster

November 5, 2010 at 5:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized