I looked back at the old man and continued. “What we need for the production of salt at the time of the war was a mere rectangular tin pot measuring about five feet long, three feet in width, and three feet depth. We then prepared a cooking stand with two big mangrove tree logs arranged side by side to make a fire.
“All the raw materials that we need were the salt water from the sea and a steady supply of firewood; the mangrove forest has an unlimited supply. One can prepare as many pots and fire as he is capable of managing.
“As the water dries up, the salt will be left behind as sediment in the pot. The more water one keeps filling the pot with, the larger the quantity of salt produced.
“On getting the desired amount of salt, it will be emptied into a large bamboo weaved baskets. The pot will then be filled with fresh water and the salt poured back into it.”
“Why do you need to do that?” He asked.
“The saltwater we got from the river carries with it a large number of residues,” I explained. “Though, we often collect the water when the river has stopped flowing in full tide or at ebb tide when all the muddy dross has settled into the depth of the river. We will still carry some along with the water to the pot; this gives the prepared salt a brownish color.
“We, therefore, use the fresh water to wash off this brownish appearance to give it a somewhat brighter look.”
“This would be quiet a labor-intensive activity.”
“It was. The fire must be on, all day and all night until you have got the desired quantity of salt in the pot, and you want to remove it. You’ve got to have a regular supply of firewood to keep the fire burning and be filling the pot with the salt water.
“You would have to wake up in the middle of the night to make sure that the fire does not burn out, or the salt burnt black. There was also the additional labor of getting the fresh water from another fishing camp across the estuary where there was a bush, every time you need to clean the salt.”
“How do you sell off the product after this rigorous exercise?” he asked.
“There was a total trade blockade into the Eastern part of the country as a result of the war. This resulted in a lack, or shortage of the supply of salt, among other essential marine products.
“Though the salt we produced was not of the grade of fine refined type, it was able to compensate for the total lack of the product and the resultant health effect on the people. We will then package the salt into the baskets which we take to the border market at Akpede for sale.” I concluded
“How’s that possible?” He asked.
We both turned to look away into the far southern end of the river where a flock of parrots was descending into the groove of the giant mangrove trees: their chirping sounds filling the evening air.
“After producing the salt, do you have to shut down production until after you have done the sale then you go back and start another round of cooking?” He turned to look at me inquiringly.
“You are only asking me to say how this is possible or do you truly want to know?” I asked with a smile.
“Well, you have been explaining the process, and I truly want to know how you concluded this salt production business at a time of strife.”
“While the men and the children are involved in the main working at the camp, the wives would take the finished product to the market. It was also a period when various trading activities were also going on.
“Some traders would come from the hinterlands to buy salt and other marine products to go and sell at the market; they also brought food items and other things to sell in the camps.
“Though I would want to accept your assessment to the extent that we were not directly in the epicenter of the war to have a severe effect, we, none-the-less, felt it in different ways. We exploited the situation to stay alive. Our life patterns were also greatly displaced.”
“If you have been listening to me since I came here, you would realize that is what I have been saying,” he looked at me. And now I can see the shade of weariness in his face quite plain.
“War is a dangerous adventure for anybody, people, or nation to undertake. Even now, I can hear the sound and drums of war very loud and clear all over the world.
“It is not the sound that you hear from a distant land and would want to dismiss as tales by moonlight. I can hear it even in your country. The general meetings and assemblies of all the world organs are not meeting on global development, but about alignment, about wars, and about the production of the weapon of wars of the destruction of the human race.
“Are you paying attention to the news of the world? There is an alarming trend of events tilting into war. I am afraid your nation and the world are in the periphery of a catastrophic cauldron. And with the advancement of technology, the wars in the last century will be mere flake compared with what you will have in your hand.”
I could feel his eyes piercing into my heart as he was talking, his voice droning like a giant bird in the distance drawing my mind into a picture sometime in the past. I can see the flashing lights in the night like a dozen touch lights.
“What’s happening?” His voice cut into my thoughts. “Why are you looking as if you’ve seen a ghost?”
“I was thinking what we suffered during the war,” I looked at him as he raised his eyes inquiringly at me. “We left the village at dusk to travel to Owukubu on our salt production business.
“We were two canoes comprising the whole members of the family and some workmen of my father. He had mapped out the route we were to take as to fit with the flow of the current. His estimation was to take us to this camp at about the time when the water was to flow downstream.
“That would have given us a smooth ride down Sibokubu-bio to Juju point, then follow the current down the St. Barbara River to the estuary at Owukubu, and we would be home and dry. We would come out from that river, are you seeing that entrance upriver from here?” I pointed to the river that comes out from the midsection before the main river curves to the left.
“That point is called Okonikiri – named after a certain man that set up a fishing camp at the point.” From the fading light of evening in the distance, I could see two or three canoes returning to the camp. I looked at the old man. He was also staring at them.