|Thank goodness we got lucky and our visit coincided with the Rao's family holiday!! The Sankrati festival is a Hindu religious festival for the harvest that lasts for a few days and involves lots of visiting family, lots of fun, lots of devotion, and lots of FOOD! Brad and I had an absolute blast being with the family on such a special occasion. First stop on this three day affair was to Mrs. Rao's sister's house in Tenali, about five hours east from Hyderabad. All sorts of relatives descended on the house and the merriment began. To mark the festival the girls decorate the front of every house with colorful designs on the street. You could see the beautiful adornments in front of everyone's home. Every meal we had was delicious and they went out of their way to make some dishes less spicy for me. There were several items that were made special for this festival, none of which I can pronounce nor write, but they were good. They even did something extra special by getting some banana leaves so we could eat off them the way they did in the olden days. But the real blessings came in the blessings! Mrs. Rao and all her sisters are very devoted to Sai Baba and her younger sister, Jaga, had an impressive temple in her home with pictures of Sai Baba in 1918 and again now in his reincarnation. The first day we were there the ladies invited Brad and me into the temple to pray with them. There was lots of incense, fire, chanting, bell ringing and mysticism. Brad and I joined in giving rice and some coins to the altar. We also recieved the red blessing kumkum on our forehead. In the afternoon we were both given traditional Indian clothing to wear. Brad wore a lungi around his waist and I wore a beautiful Punjabi outfit, forget the saree, too complicated for me. We enjoyed dressing up for the festival. The next morning brought us back to the temple for more blessings. This time was extra special!! The Sankrati festival also is the time to bless newlyweds and since we have been married less than a year, we count! Brad and I sat on the floor and Mrs. Rao and her sisters prayed for us. They blessed us with the kumkum powder, ash, and rice on our heads then gave us all three in three small silver tins to take with us. They gave us a picture wallet of Sai Baba to carry with us for our protection. Our hands were wrapped with a special cloth and we were also presented with the clothes that we had worn the day before. Finally we were given a baby outfit so that we will be blessed with children. Mrs. Rao's sister, Prasuna, gave us the final blessing since she is the oldest sibling. Jaga, the younger sister, told us that she had prayed to the gods that she would have two extra visitors for the Sankrati festival so when we showed up we were sent by the gods. Being part of such an intimate expereince was what most Peace Corps Volunteers get after one year, not just one day! The Rao family was absolutely wonderful and warm to us during their family holiday. So you know about the devotion and family, let me tell you about the fun! They had a lovely rooftop terrace where we had Indian cocktails. Uncle Ramesh was so generous that when he found out I liked rum and Cokes they bought some Indian rum, Hercules XXX. Really it was pretty darn good. Especially since we had to drink it with Diet Coke! Believe it or not, there is no Coke to be had in all of Tenali, which is a small city after all. It seems Pepsi has won the cola battle in India. I read that Coke has had all sorts of legal and PR issues here. Now it bottles a cola called Thumb's Up. Kind of like Coke, maybe more like New Coke. What a treat to be up on the roof having a good 'ole rum and coke enjoying the music and fireworks from the Sankrati festival in town!