Spirit of Thanksgiving not bound by borders

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
It may be considered by many as a unique holiday exclusive to the original Pilgrims’ harvest festival and the United States, but Thanksgiving is celebrated in other countries as well, such as Uzbekistan.

Exchange student Semruh Uvraimova (pronounced SEEM roo OOH vray mow vuh) of Uzbekistan has been attending Canton-Galva High School after arriving in this country the first week in August.

This will be her first Thanksgiving with her host family living in rural Hillsboro, but it is not a new holiday for her.

“It’s our holiday, but it came from the United States,” said Uvraimova, 17. “It’s a national holiday, like Labor Day.”

In this country, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November, but in Uzbekistan it’s always celebrated on Nov. 22. On that day, stores and businesses close their doors and citizens plan a day of thankful celebration.

Uzbekistan is located in Central Asia, north of Afghanistan, and is slightly larger than California. The climate is considered mid-latitude desert-with long hot summers, mild winters and semiarid grasslands to the east.

The country was conquered by Russia in the late 19th century. After World War I, resistance to Soviet rule was eventually suppressed and a socialist republic was established in 1924.

During an era of Russian control, cotton and grain crops, such as wheat, were heavily produced. This eventually led to overuse of agri-chemicals and depletion of water supplies.

Uzbekistan today is seeking to reduce its dependence on agriculture while developing its mineral and petroleum reserves.

Gaining its independence in 1991, the country now operates as a republic with 12 provinces and a population of about 26 million people. The government is considered authoritarian presidential rule with little power outside the executive branch.

Uvraimova’s father is an engineer and her mother a high school English teacher. Siblings include a sister, 20, a student studying competitive swimming at a physical-education institute; and a brother, 32, who is the United States diplomat for Uzbekistan and works in Washington, D.C.

“I started to study English in the third grade, but I never had much opportunity to communicate with Americans,” Uvraimova said.

“So we just learned how to read, to spell and to translate. I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to speak English until I came to the United States.”

Her native language is Russian, and her nationality is Uzbekistani.

The competition to be chosen as an exchange student with the Center for Cultural Interchange, a non-profit organization based in Illinois, is stiff.

“From my country, 7,000 applied and to go, 120 were accepted,” Uvraimova said.

“I’ve been interested in the United States since my childhood, and it’s still in my heart” she said. “In my country, U.S.A. are my intitials. We write our last name, first name and then middle name.”

Uvraimova’s family is Christian, and their lifestyle is similar to families in the United States and Europe.

“A lot of people in our country have European style,” she said. “I can do whatever I want, because my parents trust me. But, yes, everything is American. Especially Kansas, because Kansas is like my country.”

Uvraimova said she wanted to spend a year in the United States to improve her English, meet new people and to understand the aspects of life here.

“So when I come back to my country, I will have an opportunity to tell our people about the culture of the United States, the style of life, the customs and the traditions,”she said.

In her home, she said she celebrates Thanksgiving Day with family and friends gathered around a table filled with holiday food.

“We make a lot of food for the table with our nearest and dearest friends to come and eat,” Uvraimova said. “These are best friends who went through life with my family, so they’re (like) members of my family. I have only two aunts and one uncle.”

The typical Thanksgiving meal in her house includes roasted goose on a large platter filled with apples and potatoes.

“We have salads and our national food-meat with dough,” Uvraimova said. “My mom makes a lot of cookies. We have no pumpkin pie, but we have different kinds of pies, like chocolate pie.”

The celebration includes a silent prayer before the meal and a time to gather together and sing during the day.

“They like to listen to songs,” Uvraimova said. “I can sit and play the piano and sing some songs. Sometimes, my mom sings with me the songs she knows. They are Russian songs.

“And I play games with the little kids so they’re not bored. If my grandparents have no opportunity to come to our house, my parents and I are going to their house to make a celebration for them.”

As a teenager, Uvraimova said the day is not complete without calling her friends.

“Every celebration, I call my friends and wish them good luck,” she said. “I just call that day, and it’s always fun.”

As part of her education curriculum, Uvraimova said she and fellow students study about holidays in other countries.

“We talk about Thanksgiving Day in America,” she said. “The school in which I’m studying, it has an interest in English. And the Americans who come to my school, they can tell us about the traditions.”

The majority of people in her country celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.

“They like this celebration to gather with family and friends,” Uvraimova said.

This Thanksgiving with her host family, Uvraimova will sit down to a meal of roast turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green-bean casserole, salad, rolls and pumpkin pie.

When it is time to remember her blessings, she said she will be thinking about many things on the holiday.

“I’m thankful for our faith, our life that we have no war, that there is a beautiful clear sky above our heads, and there are no sick people,” she said.

“We just give thanks to God for our parents who are always with us. No matter how old you are, you always need you parents. It’s because I love them.

“I will be thankful here with my wonderful host family, and I love (them) so much. And I will be thankful that I have an opportunity to come here, because it’s a big lesson in my life to be without my parents and to live in another culture.”

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