Amanda Koster

thoughts and experiences of an international documentarian

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

Posted in Uncategorized

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