COMPETITION: LITERALLY LOST 73

This excerpt has been taken from a work of travel literature. Readers are invited to tell us: a) where the action is taking place b) who the author is. Blackwell's Bookshops will award pounds 30-worth of tokens to the first correct answer out of the hat. Answers on a pc to: Literally Lost, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL. Usual rules apply. Entries to arrive by Thursday. Literally lost 72: The book was `The Crossing Place - A Journey among the Armenians' by Philip Marsden. The action took place in Armenia. The winner is K Sands, London.

any years ago my father had bought a vast tract of land on the edge of the ****** Desert. For 50 years no one had made any effort to develop it and those broad acres were left there, lying parched and unwanted in the desert sun. There my mother went at the age of 80. The only people who seemed willing to accompany here were displaced persons; there was a German geologist who had been interned during the war; a delicate Bavarian missionary whom she made her secretary; and an Italian carpenter and mason, an ex-prisoner of war, who became her foreman.

One hundred miles from the nearest village they pitched their tents and started looking for water, without which no permanent settlement was possible. At first they hired from private contractors the machines to drill for the water. The German geologist's knowledge of his science and my mother's intuitive assessment between them determined where the drilling should take place. The first contractor drilled down to 150 feet, struck iron stone - or so he said - and refused to continue. There was a terrible scene out there in the desert between the determined old lady who refused to change the site of the contractor's task, for she was convinced that water was there and the cynical technician whose profits, if any, decreased the deeper he drilled. In the end the contractor departed.

A second contractor, drilling a few feet away from the first hole, after going down 147 feet, lost all his tackle in the shaft and moved away in disgust. A third contractor, drilling still in the same narrow area, found after 153ft feet that he had sunk his shaft at an angle, and could not continue. He too went, bitter and deeply out of pocket. By this time no new contractor could be tempted to try his fortunes at this notorious site. There was nothing for it but for my mother to buy her own drilling machine. The aged geologist was apprenticed for some months to one of the few remaining un-estranged drilling contractors in the area, in order to acquire this new craft.

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