Every time I travel around the Philippines, I would always carry with me packs of roscas, a biscuit baked by the womenfolk in my hometown of Barugo in the island of Leyte located in eastern Philippines. I used to bring just 100 pieces packed in a cellophane for taste test to introduce the roscas to my colleagues in the NGOs. Lately, I have been regularly ordering 30 packs every week for "pasalubong" (gifts) and sale. The roscas are lovingly baked by the women members of the Barugo Roscas Producers Association, a sisterhood of roscas bakers in our town. They are packed in carton boxes and transported to Tacloban. Lugging along a big box have put a little inconvenience to my usually " travel light" trips. I checked them in at the airport and have them labelled "fragile", otherwise, they will reach my destination in a different form- broken, unattractive but still delicious. Whether it is a box or two, big or small, I always carry them with pride and joy announcing to almost everyone that I am carrying roscas, a product of the women of Barugo.
Where is the pride and joy from this box of inconvenience coming from that even now while writing about it makes my heart swell with unexplainable happiness? My dear sisters, the pride comes from my mother Anastacia who may be smiling from the heavens now. She went six feet down under when I was just ten (10) years old which was a little less than forty (40) years ago. While I travel by air now, my Nanay (mother) travelled by land, transferring from one bus or jeepney to another to sell roscas in the city and other towns during fiestas and special occasions. That was more than four (4) decades ago when land travel would take longer due to the irregularity of trips, the bumpiness of the dusty dirt roads and the multiple stop-overs to load people, livestocks and agricultural produce. When there were no airconditioners, roofed bus terminals and bottled drinking water. And there I was, sitting on a big can of roscas, not on the seat of the bus, so my mother can save a few centavos. At our destination, e jointly carry the big can and go house to house to deliver the roscas to relatives and friends. This was my beautiful memory of several summers when I was just a child and my mother was in her twenties.
It took more than four (4) decades before I finally had my bearings and decided to do something for the roscas. It was during my birthday in 2004 that I decided to go to Barugo and met with the Mayor to share my roscas dreams. She agreed to call the roscas producers to a meeting. The friends of my mother whom she used to bake with were mostly gone. The few surviving ones were already too old to bake roscas. But they still remember my mother with fondness - pretty, cheerful and with flawlessly white skin.
The tradition of roscas baking have been passed to the daughters, preserving their own recipes that their families and customers loved for several generations. More or less eggs, anise, lard, milk. Some are molded big, fat and others with slim legs. Some like them gold while others prefer the brown ones. They only bake when there are orders which are mostly during fiestas and Christmas time. The first introductory meeting was followed by an exploratory meeting and many more over the years. I always look forward to the next meeting. I enjoy dreaming with them, listening to them, giving them a piece of my mind and heart. They are primarily housewives, fish vendors, farm hands, laundry women, vegetable vendors who bake roscas to augment their income. They are – like my mother- with multiple skills and multiple sources of income. She made rice cake everyday, operated a retail store, sold newspapers and magazines, cuts and perms hair, manicure and pedicure to singlehandedly support and raise her Paulina.
After four (4) decades, I found myself, weaving my professional work with the entrepreneurial spirit of my mother, using my training skills with the daughters of the friends of my mother. I visit them every now and then and help them pack roscas when I can. Perhaps that's the way they were in the time of my mother. And now, not with tin cans and not in buses, I lug the boxes of roscas in taxis and check them at the airport, transport them outside the province. And proudly tells everyone (while Anastacia smiles in heaven), “This is roscas from the women of Barugo”.