The property world may be cut-throat, but not a field that is life-threatening to work in.
Richard Scarth, chartered surveyor and Royal Naval reservist, sparked Claer Barrett’s interest when he featured in a diary story in Property Week about his posting to Iraq. After finding out that he had set up a practice in Kabul in Afghanistan, she struck up an email correspondence with him, and decided to take the plunge and go out and visit him.
‘The more I heard, the more I realised I had to go out and spend a week with him and report on how he does the job of a chartered surveyor that the majority of our readers are doing in the UK and Europe, but in a war zone,’says Barrett. ‘He was telling me about surviving riots and how he came up against corruption on a daily basis.
‘He was really trying to help rebuild what he felt was an amazing country that had been ruined by 30 years of continuous conflict. He was keen for me to go out and show other people what he was trying to do.”
Barrett paid cash and booked a commercial flight from Dubai to Afghanistan, but was slightly unnerved when she realised she had to organise air ambulance insurance so she could be taken to Dubai if anything happened to her.
Having also offered her story to the Face the Facts team on BBC Radio 4, she was kitted out with recording equipment. In all the excitement, however, she forgot to book a journalist’s visa, and it wasn’t until a few days before she was due to travel that she realised she had to get recording equipment into the country with only a tourist visa.
‘My boyfriend suggested that I take a musical instrument with me and pretend that I need ed recording equipment for recording music, so I packed a flute,’ she says. ‘I’d bought a great big compendium on Afghanistan to read on the plane. At the end of one of the chapters it said: ‘In Afghanistan it’s forbidden for women to play musical instruments’. There I was with this flute – I turned white. Fortunately I managed to get through customs without too much fuss.”
Barrett spent the next four days living at Scarth’s bungalow, trailing him while he worked. ‘We were driving around roads where there had been suicide bomb attacks. He showed me the body armour under the seats and told me about his get-out-of-trouble box under his seat, which includes de-mining tools,’she says.
On returning to Britain, Barrett played her recordings to the BBC, which then asked her to make a half-hour documentary that was broadcast on Radio 4.