Bucket Showers Make for a Fun Birthday Tradition

Eden Hailu
When you study abroad, you usually come prepared for cultural differences like language barriers or new foods. However, you'll also experience new cultures in ways you don't expect to, and it’ll catch you by surprise. You’ll encounter traditions that are unlike anything you've seen at home, leaving you with lots of questions. For instance, I was totally caught off guard by my experience in Tanzania last summer, which introduced me to the diversity of birthday traditions that exist in the world. 
After classes, I would usually find a quiet spot on campus where I could do my homework while soaking up the sun. One day, I was disturbed by loud screams nearby. I looked up to see a girl running away from about four other girls. I was confused, because while the screaming girl didn't look too happy, the rest of the them looked like they were really enjoying it. I also noticed that there was a large group of people watching the girl get chased, and they all seemed to be smiling or laughing as well. I saw someone I knew amidst this crowd, so I asked her what was going on. She explained to me that the girl was being chased because it was her birthday, and the other girls were her best friends. Although I felt much better after learning she wasn't being bullied, I was left even more confused.
When her friends finally caught up to the screaming girl, they grabbed her and cornered her while a few boys walked out of their dorms carrying buckets filled with water. They dumped about 4 buckets of water on her and let her break free to run again. She was soaking wet but began to smile as she ran away – presumably because she thought it was over. But her friends were far from finished. In the next few minutes they dumped about 7 or 8 more buckets of water on her (it could've been more but honestly, I lost count). Though I felt bad for the girl, it was pretty entertaining to watch them let her go free so she could think it was over while others were in their rooms filling up more buckets.
Later, I learned that showering people with buckets of water was a common event. Both boys and girls could expect to get this treatment on their birthdays. This led me to reflect on some of the birthday traditions that we have in the U.S. I can recall birthday punches being pretty popular in elementary school. Although no one actually liked getting punched, you got it over with and enjoyed the rest of your birthday. And when it was your friend’s birthday, you made sure to give them punches and keep the tradition going. Having seen both traditions I can definitely say the bucket shower is more entertaining overall. I saw two more bucket showers during my stay there, and even participated in one before I left!
All this is to say, you can never be totally prepared for every new experience you’ll encounter in a foreign country. While you may initially be confused or even disturbed by some of the things you experience abroad, you’ll be better off if you have an open mind and try to learn as much as you can about the culture instead of writing anything off as just “weird.”  
Eden Hailu is a junior at Pitt, double majoring in Economics and Political Science with certificates in African and Globes Studies. She studied abroad with Pitt in Tanzania in summer 2017 through the Vira I Heinz scholarship, a program that provides women with no international experience with the opportunity to study abroad and receive leadership development training. She is currently interning at Pitt Study Abroad for the 2017-2018 school year.