A past life
Visiting Akhmim in the poverty-stricken governorate of Sohag, photographer Sherif Sonbol captures ancient modes of life that are likely to hold you spellbound
A mere bridge across from the Upper Egypt urban centre of Sohag, there is little to suggest that this is the 21st century. Indeed it is as if Akhmim made the decision, some 200 years ago, to put time on a halt. Today this small but historically significant city resembles what a 19th-century Cairo neighbourhood might have looked like.
This is due to the fact that Akhmim was arguably the only town excluded from the wave of urbanisation and modernisation that accompanied 20th-century industrialisation in its various guises, much of which focussed on commercially viable areas, whether in terms of the national economy or in terms of tourism potential. Akhmim was simply left to its own devices and the forces of the free-market economy.
This explains why homes are still built using the earliest, by now outmoded methods -- and the fact that townspeople are largely dependent on the manual trades they know. All but one of the roads in the town are mere dirt-tracks. Very few people drive, and those who do own vehicles that anywhere else would be considered antiques, dating back to the 1930s and 1940s. The men who iron galabiyas and shirts continue to use a foot-held iron heated on hot coals. The women and girls continue to transport water from wells to their homes, bearing jars on their heads.