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January 29, 2011

A longing for Mongolia: Peace Corps volunteer back after two years

MARBLEHEAD — Her home is on one of the prettiest streets in the most picturesque towns in the world. Judy Gates loves Marblehead.

But, she just spent 27 months in Mongolia, with no central heat, where wintry temperatures linger eight months of the year and the wind cutting across the grasslands can drive the thermometer to 50 below zero.

Yet, she said, "I felt more a part of the community there than I do here."

Not that she's lost her affection for Marblehead.

"I love seeing my friends again," Gates said.

And as a former library trustee, she will give a talk titled "Take a Trip to Mongolia" at the Abbot Public Library on Sunday, Feb. 6, at 2 p.m. It's a topic likely to tell us a little bit about our lives and what's gotten lost in the rush toward progress.

Gates, 67, a widow with two grown children and grandchildren, went to Mongolia as a Peace Corps volunteer in 2008.

"We all have to figure out what is meaningful in our lives," she said before departing. "One of the most important ways to find meaning is by trying to do things for others."

She went to a country quite literally on the other side of the world, tucked up between China and Russia, a land of grassy plains and people who briefly conquered much of the known world in the 13th century. Today, Mongolia is considered a developing country, formerly under Soviet control.

As a volunteer, Gates used her skills in marketing to help at the local chamber of commerce.

Renting space in a wooden house, Gates enjoyed three rooms to herself but kept to one in order to stay warm. Her biggest challenge, however, wasn't weather. It was the language. It gets tougher to learn, she conceded, as you get older.

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