Amanda Koster

thoughts and experiences of an international documentarian

Archive for the ‘salaamgarage’ Category

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

Passion to tell a story is the jet fuel behind citizen journalism.

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“drocolate” of wanted to ask me (Amanda Koster) a few ?s about sxsw. Thought I’d share:

1. Why should I attend your core conversation at SXSW?

One example. Compare the velocity of media and societies responce of Katrina vs. Haiti.

listen to this:

Let’s see how far can we take this.

2. What makes you the right person to be conducting this convo?

I’m an outsider. I’m not from the tech arena. When I presented at Gnomedex in 2008, I did not have an iPhone, Twitter account nor did Facebook make much sense to me. I thought FB was innovative online dating. Since then I have been able to harness storytelling, social media and passion all for social change. If can d that, anyone can.

The passion to tell a story is the jet fuel behind citizen journalism. And it has been passion, not assignments, that got me here right now. I’ve been working as a photojournalist, writer, author for about 15 years though it has been my personal projects, again not assignments, that propelled my career and life beyond where I ever thought it could go.

Citizen journalism is more powerful than it could have ever been imagined and this is growing. The pendulum is swinging far to the left, and is still swinging.

Because I believe in these things makes me the perfect person (and Amanda Rose of Twestival) to lead this conversation.

3. What advice would you give to aspiring citizen journalists (other than attending your convo at SXSW, of course)?

Your personal stories and perspectives are more valuable than ever. Make GOOD content and get it out to a relevant audience. And, there’s more to it than that:

Have a plan. SalaamGarage builds relationships/projects/plans with NGOs farin advance. We do not advocate what I call ‘drive-by-shootings’  (just showing up, shooting photos, then jet).

Be authentic. We want intimacy. I think people are tired of the slick, heavily produced story. We see through it. With the wildfire of social media and intentionally constructed social communities, impersonal, glossy stories delivered by a generic, safe personality is rapidly loosing ground.

Be relevant. Not worth telling a story about t-shirts to a dog trainer. Even if it’s the most compelling t-shirt story ever. Be relevant and focused.
Know your audience. Tell them a story 1) you care about and 2)they want to hear.

Care. There are ‘hot’ stories to tell, but you outta care about it. I travel all over the world all the time with SalaamGarage and as an free-lance journalist. There are stories that resonate with me, and other that just don’t. The advantage of being a citizen journalist is that you get to choose your story, verses being assigned something that is not dear to you.

DO SOMETHING with it. Share. Everyone is sitting on a novel, but if a tree falls in the woods….. I’ll leave it at that.

I am very passionate about this and have a lot more (not big on advice) ideas around this topic, though, this is the topic of our conversation so come join the conversation.

4. Where is your dream location to take a citizen journalism project? Antarctica? Atlantis? Detroit? Where?’

The White House.

And if you want to be known as anything other than “Amanda Koster” please denote that as well.
Amanda Koster
is that what you mean?
Or… Amanda Koster: professional storyteller, founder of SalaamGarage

Written by amandakoster

February 25, 2010 at 5:28 pm

wading thru images

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whoa. i made 7808 images in vietnam. man-o-man. digital.

if these were film days it would have been half as many. easily. we paid (differently) for each click back then. hard cash. now we pay with time. this is photography, the other side.

the beauty of digital is that i get to re-live my trip several times, as editing is a multiple-session (2-4ish hours at a time) process. with help: red wine, jetlag and pandora. this is good. reliving the experience.

had dinner with my friend becky tonight. we sat down and she asked me, ‘tell me about vietnam.’ i smiled.

you see, when we were skiing 3ish weeks ago i had just returned from south africa and she asked, ‘tell me about south africa.’ i looked at her, paused and said, ‘i can’t.’ like any really good friend she understood, nodded and we skied on.

this time i could tell her about vietnam. why? because yesterday, when i got home i could see the top of this specific mountain. i saw  a presentation and decided to submit a presentation to ignite seattle about my trip to vietnam (it helps that brady forrest -who kicks ass-  curator of ignite and web 2.0 punched me in the ribs at the last ignite and said ‘i wanna see you up there’ … he gets it). i may or may not be accepted, though i now have a goal, a presentation, a project where i can share my trip with images. this is how i express. whew.

i told becky about my presentation idea and she got it with very few words. ‘artists need to create, they need to express their experiences thru their medium. it’s how they work through life.’

bulls eye. so good to have friends, lovers, partners, etc., who understand us, isn’t it? in fact, it’s vital (for me).

luckily, i was asked to talk about my south africa experience at TEDx. thank god, as this will help… with that. so i am a happy, busy woman. this is where i belong, this is how i contribute.

so, wading through these images has been pretty emotional for me. it always is. i have to carve out time to do it, right away, after any project. i have a few upcoming interviews and presentations that will help. believe it or not, these SalaamGarage presentations (upcoming TEDx talk: 4/16, SxSW: 3/13, a few schools and buzz bruggemans ‘tertulia’ (private event) on 3/9 in seattle) help a lot. For me it is a way to process, create, share, EXPRESS and complete. guess this is why i used to do photo exhibitions. however, life is moving pretty fast right now for me…  so public speaking is my new exhibition. my book (and next one) helps a lot as well. ah. just figured that out as i write right now. i am grateful for every opportunity to present my experiences, as it helps me to process what i just saw.

and man, what i just saw was potent.

stay tuned.

Written by amandakoster

January 27, 2010 at 7:18 am

ho van lai

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dong ha, vietnam

hung out with ho va lai (or lai)  yesturday who is now in 10th grade. when lai was about 8 years old he was playing in the sand with his friends and suddenly there was an explosion. unfortunately he uncovered one of many cluster munitions or ‘bombies’ still lying dormant in quang tri province, dropped by the usa during the vietnam war. three other friends died instantly and another friend was injured worse than lai.

now lai has 2 artificial legs, has a reconstructed hand, his other arm is amputated above the wrist. he can see about 50% out of one eye. he is blind in the other eye.

it was hard for him to talk about the accident, ‘the wost memory of his whole life,’ as it was translated. lai talked about the explosion, that since then it has been hard for his family to take care of him and how he feels bad about that. he lives in dong ha but his family lives out in the country. he lives in a rented apartment in dong ha so that he can be near to his school and more amenities. out  in  the county it is more difficult. peacetrees vietnam covers his rent and school fees.

for awhile lai had to go to a special school for disabled people. tho, after time and a whole lot of hard work he is now in a regular school, meaning not specifically for disabled people.

lai wasn’t interested in the para-olympics like many others we’ve met, other folks how have had similar accidents with cluster bombs and landmines, missing limbs and vision. he is interested in school. specifically: computers.

after the official interview (teaming up with salaamgarage participant  daysha eaton of superstringer) i asked lai if he could show me his stuff on the computer. we went into the ‘nerve room’ (computer at peactrees and lai sat down.

once he did his face just lit up. he was home. this wasn’t a place where he was disabled or partially blind. this was a place where lai could explore, express, wonder, wander, be. it was just awesome to watch him play on the computer. though he had to really strain to see the monitor, and he said he has to limit his time because it hurts his eyes after awhile, this was the first smile we saw. and it was a big one.

its important to get the hard facts and the difficult story. however it is equally as important, i think, to connect. lai and i were on equal ground here. meeting on mutual geek-ground, i sat down with him and we poked around youtube. he came up with a very old video about Vietnamese fighter pilots during the Vietnam war.

he then started typing up a doc for me (needs to be translated) telling me what he wanted to say. basically he typed up; it is so nice to meet you, he is happy we came to see him, kind things like this. it was awesome watching him type to the doc to me, telling me what he was thinking. it was awesome to watch his hand type out letters with such joy.

as i was telling the whole group of us: peacetrees, salaagmarage, landmine survivors and victims during our introduction, at the end of the day it is truly an honor for me to meet people around the world, hear their story and connect.

i can’t think of anything that brings me such joy,  it’s what i live for. thank you lai.

Written by amandakoster

January 17, 2010 at 10:36 am

the soil is very red here

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dong ha, vietnam.

where i am sitting there ‘was’ a war going on.

the soil is very red here. it has a hi iron content. there are bombs in this soil. explosives which are still killing people, maiming people, blinding people, etc. people who have/had nothing to do with any conflict between north and south vietnam, or the united states or anything. kids who went out to play, thought a ‘bombie’ (cluster bomb) was a toy and kicked it. they may loose their site, legs and arms while their friends die right beside them. this is how it happens.

today i interviewed and photographed a few landmine survivors and victims (there is a difference here).

i am meeting these folks, seeing these places, learning about how things are now, post war. things are good and bad.

yesterday, january 15 quang li told me 14 people have died this year in quang tri province from explosives.

bliare (exec. director of peacetrees vietnam) said it will take over 200 years to clear all the explosives in the soil in vietnam. over 200 years. 200 years. how long will this war last exactly?

besides iron i imagine there is a lot of blood as well. the soil here is very red here.

Written by amandakoster

January 16, 2010 at 1:33 pm

totally humbled…

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photo: Fiona Hoadley (AWOE)

The credit belongs to those who are actually in the arena, who strive valiantly; who know the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spend themselves in a worthy cause; who at the best, know the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if they fail, fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
— Theodore Roosevelt

Written by amandakoster

December 15, 2009 at 6:45 am

how lucky am i…

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today in the shower (where i do much of my deep thinking) i was in tears of gratitude. absolute tears almost whimpering. i am amazed. salaamgarage is taking off in places i had dreamed of, and places i forgot to dream about. what i forgot to dream about was with the incredible people i would meet along this path.

so, take a look at the people headed to India with us in September. i mean, i am in awe. i get to co: travel, create, inspire, experience, journey, laugh, and stare in amazement with truly incredible people. and.. this is my job, a job i have created out of passion and a purpose i self-defined: storytelling for the greater good.

look who i get to be with:

..and India of all places. i LOVE India! i have a history with India as many of you who know me well, know i do. others who don’t.. i have spent about 6 months total in India throughout my life alone as a backpacker, working, leading the 1st salaamgarage trip, shooting professionally…and have never ever felt so alive, aware, awake and totally tuned into soul energy as i have in India. be it happy, sad, fear, anger, pain, bliss, curiosity, the whole gamut.. i have felt it there in the most intensely concentrated way. my past -who i will love forever- boyfriend’s (indian) cousin said it to me best: “india is like turning up the volume for everything, whatever it is” (i am paraphrasing). that about says it. get ready! (by the way, there is 1 more spot left for India)

so i get to travel with amazing photographers, writers, entrepreneurs, designers, ceo’s, social media junkies, geeks, hippys, leaders, BALLSY people who i am just amazed by! and… these are my ‘customers’!!?? more like my team, or posse,  people who i think truly believe that their storytelling combined with social media, passion, work, vision and inspiration WILL cause change for the greater good. how did i get so lucky?

Look at this from Jesse Powell: “Ideally, I’d be able to create or contribute to a sustainable independent organization that can take the necessary risks to set the examples that governments need in order to adopt the programs on a larger scale. While I think it’d be great to be a teacher, I ought to utilize the skills I’ve learned as an entrepreneur and in the business world to create more opportunities for other people to have rewarding experiences as teachers.”

and this, from Todd Gehman who is just brutally honest about a past travel experience: “I literally shot from the hip most of the time because I was too self-conscious to shove a camera in the faces of strangers. I’d like to be more integrated with the community and positively affect the lives of my subjects.”

And Lisa Field-Elliot “She says, “I believe this trip chose me, rather than the inverse. I am beyond excited for the beautiful images and stories that will be gathered, the connections that will be made, and the doorways that will be opened.”

a new sponsor joby tripods ( just wrote me out of the blue and saidI am excited to support your endeavors and work with you..’ A travel agent yesterday who working on logistics for custom built SalaamGarage trips in africa (stay tuned, late 2010): locally owned and operated collaborators. (  she put it all together for me. i asked ‘are your fees included?’ she said “As for fees from us, there are none!”

Again I am in awe of how this feels. it is so powerful to step right into ones dreams. step right in. throughout the day i have to hold back my tears of joy, really. and i sit hear listing to old U2 and peter gabriel songs (which REALLY touches that magic place for me) right now: ‘one tree hill’… just desiring the whole world to feel this way. this joy, this realization of my dreams and the knowing that this path will inspire many many more people. the stories these travelers will create, and share, spread far and wide and the quiet, personal experiences they will all have, the humility they will witness. i am truly in tears imagining this, feeling this. i KNOW their lives will never ever be the same because mine wasn’t. i know what is out there and i don’t know what is out there. this and the other SalaamGarage journeys will have an impact on others that at the moment we can only dream of but i tell you i can see it. i can see the change, i can feel the shift. look at this India team. look at these faces, their websites, read about their passion, drive, these are changemakers. and not because of SalaamGarage, they always were. we just found each other.

and now, together we are all greater, much more powerful than the sum of our parts. (still in tears)

how did i get so lucky? i have had this vision, quietly, for over a decade and here it is. and it keeps happening, growing. the people i meet, the travelers who come with us, the partners, the sponsors, board of advisers (yep, that’s right!), even just the quiet questions in the corner, very timid emails. all of it. every single person. the janitor at the web 2.0 conference. look at the good we have all tapped into. this is just the beginning. i can feel that too, the same way i felt when i picked up a camera way back when…

i thank you all. this is yours too. this is all yours.

thank you.

Written by amandakoster

July 9, 2009 at 7:09 pm

Posted in salaamgarage