She has come under sharp criticism in the past few months as one of the six “Real Housewives of the Winelands”, but according to Karen Schwendtke, life’s obstacles have taught her to instead see the beauty in difficult circumstances.
“People can be mean, but what someone says or writes is a greater reflection of themselves than of me. I am open to criticism and to improve myself. I always try to turn things around to see the positives,” the businesswoman tells RNews from her home in the luxurious Val de Vie estate in Franschhoek.
Of course, this does not mean that this fiery blonde cannot stand her man.
“I am the kindest, nicest person you can find. I just don’t take ‘nonsies’. People who have known me for years just say: ‘That’s Curries. There’s not a thing she won’t do for you, but just don’t get on her wrong side’.”
Karen no longer afraid to be vulnerable
Karen has viewers in the first of two Real Housewives-reunion episodes shocked when she revealed that she survived two strokes in 2021.
Through this reality series, she also spoke candidly about her divorce and personal journey to self-acceptance, a subject she says cannot be tackled without honesty.
However, many were left scratching their heads over this so-called “housewife’s” decision to share her health shock with the public.
“During the series there were so many comments from all quarters about my appearance, including that my eyes are red all the time, that I’m drunk, that my mouth is crooked and what else? I didn’t want to defend or explain myself all the time, and instead allowed people to say what they wanted to say.”
Although she could not join her fellow housewives for the reunion in person due to an operation, she still had her say on this criticism.
“I almost died, but I feel blessed. I feel blessed that I was able to talk to Anita – who once made comments about my speech – about this and give answers, regardless of what she thinks of me.”
The mother of two says that her daughters, Saskia and Arabella, first flashed through her mind when the strokes unexpectedly hit her in 2021 on the way to her game farm.
“I can’t describe the feeling and wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I just said, ‘Lord help me, my children need me.’ I told my friend who was in the car with me to turn around and rush to the hospital, because I thought I was going to die.”
Karen explains that she felt the second stroke coming soon after and tried to stop it, but believes her body didn’t want to play along. “I could feel here comes the second one. It sounds strange, but I felt clean as if I was going to the ‘other side’.”
She attributes her recovery process to her faith and grace.
“I’m so lucky that my brain is okay. My old eye hangs sometimes, but Dear Jesus has protected me so well. I just wanted to go straight from the hospital to the game farm.”
Although in an earlier episode during the housewives’ vacation in Mauritius there was an opportunity to share this heart issue with the other housewives, comments about “weaknesses as an excuse for people’s actions” made her decide against it.
“I just thought to myself, this is not the time and place to share it. I am quiet when I feel I have nothing to contribute to the conversation. Unfortunately, some people, it seems to me, are different when the spotlight shines on them.”
Real Housewives force her out of her comfort zone
Despite negative comments from the mainstream and social media, Karen says that there were constantly women who reached out to her in a positive light.
“I received the most beautiful direct messages and didn’t realize that so many women could relate to me. I always say that one should try to keep one’s head, body and soul in balance, but it is not always easy. I hope they realized that they are not alone.”
She also doesn’t regret anything she said or did on the show, and believes the series forced her outside of her comfort zone.
“I really enjoyed visiting new restaurants and attractions and attending all the glamorous events. With Michelle’s TikTok event, for example, I didn’t know what ‘colour blocking’ was either, I thought I had to dress like my teenage child,” she jokes.
Although she found the make-up sessions somewhat challenging due to the busy filming schedule and her sensitivity to certain make-up products, she has nothing but praise for the whole Real Housewives-production and filming team.
“I made friends in front of and behind the cameras. They all crawled so deep into my heart.”
However, the gossip was the less pleasant part of her experience.
“I have to confess, I looked at some of these Facebook groups and even defended some of the other ladies when people wrote ugly or fake things, but then I asked myself: why am I wasting time and energy on this?”
She was also not afraid to defend herself in the media, “especially if they didn’t talk to me directly.”
“How can you write something about me if you haven’t spoken to me? Then you don’t know ‘Curries’.”
Karen sees chance for second round
Even though she had her inspection via video at the Real Housewives-reunion, Karen is well aware of some viewers’ opinion that she just missed it.
“Many viewers and people are pissed off, but my little heart hurts that I couldn’t be there. It was physically impossible for me. I didn’t try to avoid anyone and didn’t shy away from difficult conversations; I think the episodes prove it.”
Karen explains that she broke her arm in two places after slipping in her house in the dark on her way to the bathroom. As a result, she now has a permanent plate and screw in her shoulder.
“The recovery process was difficult, but my wonderful mother helped take care of me. It also forced me to calm down, and made me realize that the world will keep turning, even if I’m not up and running.”
She was also happy that Anita addressed the “Mammon comment”, where she teasingly argued that all women serve the god of money.
“I was actually surprised that Anita apologized, but very happy, because you don’t necessarily want to be treated the same way with this type of comment.”
When asked if, despite the drama, busy filming schedule and snide comments on social media, she sees a chance for a second round of Real Housewives, she replied with great excitement: “Absolutely! With my new Robocop-poor and all.”